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FF:Back to Newton's Laws-2...part 32

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spln

IF-Sizzlerz

spln

Joined: 06 December 2007

Posts: 11036

Posted: 05 June 2008 at 2:23pm | IP Logged
here's the new thread for my FF....the link to the old one, here you go...

http://www.india-forums.com/forum_posts.asp?TID=944870

and here are the parts from the old thread, all here in one go for u....

~INTRODUCTION~

"every action has an equal n opposite reaction" i said...."thats the third law....the law of attraction" completing i looked up from the book, through my glasses, a bit low on my nose....to see him not taking any notes at all...gosh this guy....such a pain....and to think i had thought i was tutoring the hunk of the school, the basketball stud, the rock star...n how cautious i had been about my clothes for the day, not wanting to make a mockery out of my regular not quite fashionable look....completely redundant effort now i could see...he had irritated me beyond my civil patience limit, the last thing on my mind now was what he thought of my appearencce.....as top of the class, it was part of my mandatory duties to tutor and help one academically weak student in his work, failing which would affect my grades ....n ms.stark, my physics professor had warned me about this guy's level of understanding of the course....and also how crucial it was that i sorted his ambiguities in the course completely, for he was an important student of the school in more than one way despite his academic lack...but nothing she had said was even close to the facts....he was not only the worst possible student they could have assigned me in terms of knowledge but also the worst case in terms of willingness to try....i glared at him.....while he gave me the first keen look in an hour of the peer mentor session saying "really????thats the law????sounds like a new pick up line to me....the law of attraction indeed!!!!" as he grinned at me, that dimpled charming smile which captivated the hottest chicks in our high school, all i could think of was, god when am i escaping from here....how much longer....n maintaining my glare, in fact intensifying it, i retorted "can u think beyond all that???u should if u intend passing the course ever....u know what ,forget it, um going to tell ms. stark that um quitting...they will find u some other mentor who gets flattered with your charm...." interrupting me he said "aahaa!!! the confession at last" while i gave him a quizzical look, he continued "about my endearing inescapable charm of course...." grunting at him n rolling my eyes i got up finishing off with my last strained polite response "good luck! i do hope u will make it to the passing grade at least, though god alone knows how that can ever happen.... if it can....take care" ...with that i walked away....while i intuitively felt his gaze follow me, have no clue why....newton's laws....thats all i could think....they are not even remotely that hard....if only he would put in some voluntary effort....while he interrupted my chain of thoughts calling me from behind, "hey wont that ruin ur perfect A's???" now he had it.....i looked at him with daggers in my eyes...."u worry about ur jinxed F's, il manage my A's......" i said rather rudely..then immediatedly i realized how inappropriate that was, i opened my mouth to correct myself, when he silenced me with his hand and said "i will....u wait n watch..." i stood stunned as he walked past me brushing slightly with that macho body of his, smelling heavenly and...AAAGGHHHH.... c'mon girl....u got tonnes of work...let him go....good riddance!!!!....********
She smiled deeply, as she looked at the half circle arches and the red tile roofs all around her......and that red and white emblem......STANFORD at last she thought.....after years of nothing but dreaming about it here she was....her second time in the united states she mused....and as an epilogue to the incident which had inevitably flashed through her head while remembering her previous experience as an exchange student in chicago during high school she set a tight smile on her face and said "wonder why that came to my mind of all the memories i have of that time" ....then pausing..."AMMY CHRISTOPHER BENZ...wonder if u finally managed to....chuck it ridzi..." then smiling brightly again, cause there was not much which could help her contain her excitement at being in her coveted destination she thought..."oh well...hello stanford....welcome me, ridhima gupta.....here i come.....n not the naive innocent uneasily adjusting high school exchange student anymore.....there's more to the story this time, as you will soon witness....for now....cant say how delighted i am to be here.....

*********

~Part 1~

~three months later~

"hey cleopatra!!!!would u spare this superman a dance while your caesar is away????" n without waiting for her to reply, he swiftly steered her to the dance floor....he had noticed her the moment she had stepped into the party, with her date, dressed as caesar of course....as the party went on he unintentionally but inevitably had watched her mixing with the crowd, from the corner of his eye, not just because she was fairly attractive, something about her, he couldnt pinpoint what, was unsettlingly familiar....he felt like he knew her, which was quite possible...halloween costumes were always effective in masking the real looks of any person although her face was plainly visible, no veils or hats in her costume, she might be some aquaintance for all he knew, and ideally he couldnt have cared less, but...that wasnt it...no he thought....there is more to this than what is obviously visible, but what???not able to hold his curiosity any longer, he had grabbed the very first oppertunity when her caesar had excused himself, offering apparently to fetch her a drink.....now as they danced he looked at her intently, his doubts being reconfirmed....he definitely knew her..BUT WHO WAS SHE????? the DJ, who was doing a great job at keeping the party alive, now changed to the deep purple track apt for describing such confused emotions of many at the costume party....

Can you remember, remember my name
As I flow through your life
A thousand oceans I have flown
And cold spirits of ice
All my life
I am the echo of your past

I am returning the echo of a point in time
Distant faces shine
A thousand warriors I have known
And laughing as the spirits appear
All your life
Shadows of another day

And if you hear me talking on the wind
Youve got to understand
We must remain
Perfect strangers......

the floor was crowded, the party goers mostly drunk, the stranger couple had danced for a few minutes just smiling, n looking around, not talking, since the loud blast of music from the whoofers was not going to make that easy..... and then as an inebriated guy bumped into her she fell into his arms, as he supported her from the push, she stood back up straight, smiling at him to imply a thank you, he thought he just had to ask her..."so ummm, what is your full time role, when u are not enacting the egyptian legendary beauty i mean...." he yelled into her ear even though they were close enough for him to have been audible to her with a bare whisper if it wasnt for the noise racket around....she smiled and yelled back to be heard over the din "i wonder if you really wana know that since my work is way too menial to befit my current get up....for now um enjoying the royal identity...." he smirked, realizing her smart move at not revealing herself to a complete stranger who had just grabbed hold of her onto the dance floor, in a halloween's fret party, which was not unfairly popular for the notoriety of events it annually witnessed....but, he thought, i would assume everybody here would know there homecoming victorious captain for the boys basketball team was dressed at superman tonight....thats was usual anyways....however, he was neither the kinds to be rebuked, nor satisfied with a plain dance when he was looking for answers...he tried again "but um sure u dont stick to that ancient cleopatra name at school....whats your preferred way of being addressed my fair lady????" before she could open her mouth they were both interrupted by a different yell "ridz!!! here goes ur lemon margarita...." then looking at her superman dancing partner he yelled with a grin again "hey captain! congaratulations! the season seems to have gone off your way as usual...the final UCB win was outstanding...." then smiling looking towards her, "mind if i take my lady back, who u very conveniently stole taking advantage of my absence" he finished giving him a friendly punch.... as the superman guy found the mysteriously familiar stranger politely excusing herself he let go of her waist, n saw her walk off with her date while he stood muttering the words he could not even hear himself "ritz???like THE RITZ in NYC???thats her name????guess i would prefer cleopatra if i was her, at least thats a human name even if its way too tacky for the 21st centuary...." scratching his hair he got himself another beer from the bar....the party was on full blast, but he needed to get some fresh air it was suffocating inside now....and this costume...how did superman sport this look....with his underwear over his pants....like c'mon what kinda fashion statement is that???? but his team mates called him that..superman.... n so they had talked him into dressing that way....

*************

as she changed into her night shorts n tee , she smiled thinking of the party she had just returned from....then she slightly smirked thinking of the irony....'egyptian legendary beauty' indeed she mused, remembering the exact compliment..... dressed as the 'commanding queen' in a 'second hand costume' she had bought at a rundown sidestreet store and then fixed for the party...she had not wanted to spend on the expensive brand new costumes up for sale at all leading stores so she had found an alternate when all her friends had insisted that she could not miss the event, considering she had not seen too many halloween bashes back home in India...that was the charm of being an international student in a school like this...the stature, the exposure, the experience was worth the obscenely expensive tuition she was paying them not just academically....she remembered how as an exchange high school student a little less than a decade ago, she had been the all work n no play girl in the same country....but her education during the undergrad as an engineering major had greatly altered her approach to life....she was now a grad student usually submerged neck deep in course work n research, but not forgetting that she had to experience the fun of living in the same life itself.....while maintaining her academic accolades, she had gained another dimension to her personality.....she was now a smart and confident individual with a spark about her that set her apart from most of her lot, who were forever, as she had been in the past, freaked out with work never taking the time to enjoy the process of dwelling in THE STANFY... comfortable with trends and parties, music, dance and nightclubs, she would often be subjected to the standard question "do u ever lose ur cool woman????are u never ever stressed"....of course she was human how could she escape the anxiety of tough moments, but she had just learnt over the years how to take everything coming her way in the same stride....she could now reason herself to peace even during stressful workloads and take appropriate rejuvinating breaks with the gang of people she had eventually managed to claim as dear friends in her few months as a stanford engineering grad student....so much had changed....if she had thought that undergrad had matured her reasonably, then grad school had proved there was never an end to the process of growing up in life....though the initial weeks had been hard, with a sudden surge of work much greater than what she had done in months of her earlier education, and managing the whole house between her and her housemate, and missing being with her family, she had emerged happy and delighted at being in her dream school, her enthusiasm endless....work never ceased to take its toll, but stanfy was a happening place and weekends made up somehow for the packed weeks....as she lay in bed all these thoughts running through her content mind, her phone rang....3AM in the morning????who was it now????she picked the call seeing the name muski flashing...."hey ridzi...u awake????" "why do u even bother asking me that muski....have u ever in the many years of our friendship bothered about indecent hours of calling???? anyways i am awake now i guess....did 'MR.REGGIE' propose???" ridhma said in a teasing tone "why do u think it can be just about him if i call u at 3AM....he did not look out of the circle of the chicks surrounding him even once....n anyways, he is just a crush....a big one, but just that.....but u missy have no reason to jeer at me anymore, i am all out for just a player on the team while u pick the man himself???? i called cause andy mentioned u were dancing with the basketball captain and in case u did not know, reggie's best friend...the great ARMAAN himself????" ridhima frowned a bit, the one thing she had still not quite picked up was the insane sports fanship here....she was the only 'sports illiterate' as her friends had christened her, never quite smitten by the college sports the way all of her gang was....infact all of the nation...it was like a religion....n this was not her first expereince with crazy basketball fanship here in the states....like cricket in india she thought...."hello????u there sweety????i know his mere name must have u in a daze....how was it????gosh cant believe u got to dance with him...." as muskaan's words brought her back she said, "muski, dont be a jerk....u know i dont care about all these sports gods the entire stanford worships....i mean um sure he must be awsome since they are supposed to be nothing less...what did u say the name was????yeh armaan...wait????he's indian???sure did not look like one...but his face was not completely showing and the disc lights were all there was to provide vision so i would not be sure....anyways...i hardly got to interact he just swept me off to the floor....must have been drunk like the whole house....n then andy was back within minutes...end of the story....does that put ur hyped mind to rest????" muskaan heard her tirade of jaded explaination unable to believe how she could take this so casually, aloud she said finding her voice finally "hyped mind????i know you are not the typical stuck-in-the-books engineering girl, but seriously, u need to shed off this ignorance and get a life 'lady physics'....armaan is to stanford basketball what the late mr. newton is to science....n to answer your question, yeh hes half indian...his mother was indian....but his father is an english fellow, some descendent of a chain of english lords or something....and ...." cutting her off ridhima said in a partially sleepy tone "alright thats enough....i am not currently employed by the great english family to pen down a biography for the star basketballer of a son, the heir to the royal heirloom....if thats all, i am off to hit the bed now....gotta report to my advisor early tomorrow....sweet dreams muski!!" with that she yawned cutting off the call before her best friend would start off with another lengthy round of praises for the school's superstar....oopz superman, she corrected herself with a mocking smile on her lips....her man would be a gentleman for real not just a royal bloodline to boast of...chivalrous yet witty, a smart talker...not someone who would assume every girl was dying to be in his arms on the dance floor without waiting for her consent....the sporty macho looks were not gona be impressive, not that she had anything against them....but she had no intentions of being a chick possessed by a popular sports guy amongst his other trophies whom he could show off, a rough egoist to the core but a hunk she could boast of as her guy, who could talk of nothing but his game and fans, insensitive to her eminence as an individual and not just as another babe in his life....not her idea of a love life....she wanted to be special to her guy, in every way....for being herself....anyways she thought....why am i even thinking all this...he just asked me for a dance....not like he's been waiting for a me all his life....must have just been the alcohal or why in the world would he leave all those chicks who go cheerleading for his team and come to me....armaan....the name must be all that is indian about him....um surprised he hasnt changed it into an american homophonic form....switching off these no relevance thoughts, she called it day...

************

"AMMY??!!!" he turned around with a frown as his team mate n buddy rahul grewal, or 'REGGIE' , called him from behind..."its ARMAAN, dude....not AMMY anymore...." rahul sat down beside him taking the empty bottle out of his hand n giving him a new one "yeh armaan it is mate....so what brings u out????lack of oxygen i hope not lack of beauties???" said reggie dropping the topic, he had not gotten used to the change from ammy to armaan in all their years of undergrad together, it would still slip off his tongue, but that was not a discussion where he wanted this night of double celebration to drift off, the halloweens night and the celebration for the homecoming team after their final victory of the season last weekend....since he alone among his friends knew what had caused this transformation....it was the rear end of high school, the last month to be precise, when ammy's mother had passed away from a severe and sudden asthma attack, ending in an inevitable cardiac arrest.....an indian by nationality, she had been a chronic patient for ages but well paid for advanced medical facilities had added to her short life....ammy was a single child, he had a best friend in his dad, and his mother had loved him to bits....but with the lifestyle of a pampered heir, he had never been serious about life, always taking it for granted that things would go his way...he would make them....he knew his mother was not in constant good health, but he had seen the medicines eased her problems and never understood how grave the implications of her medical status was at that age....and so her death had come to him as a complete shock.....that shock, though short lived thanks to his dad's efforts, had left its undeniable mark on him....initially he just renounced everything in his life, but Sr. benz , Mr. Christopher Lawerence Benz had ensured this state was only metastable, and so few months down, he was back, with minor appearing but essential changes....his mother had named him armaan, while the middle name came from his dad, and during his schooling years in chicago, the 'armaan' had found a convenient version of 'ammy', which his mother did not quite take to and mentioned every time he went back to london for his breaks from the boarding school....but the acronym had stuck for good until he lost her, then in his recovery weeks from the shock, he decided he would never be anything other than armaan ever again, as his lifelong tribute to the only lady he truly loved....and so it had been....after months of being with his father in london, post Lady Benz's loss for the family, he had returned to the states for he wanted to live a free life again, without the weight of being a Benz....and joined the music and theatre school at the university of michigan as an undergad....however, he knew his father had expectations out of the Benz heir, which he never spoke aloud, fearing to be an obstacle in armaan's pursuit of his passions- music and basketball....so after undergrad he switched to a completely different discipline....his admission to the stanford graduate business school was a pleasant surprise for his father, and when he asked his son what had eventuated this change of interest, armaan had said "heirs never relinquish upon what is rightfully theirs....music n basketball are mine forever, but um not about to let you down after generations of that family stature father....with a professional degree from Stanford, I will soon be the Benz i am supposed to be...." and without letting his father interrupt he said "and i want to do it, there is no obligation involved dad"....and so it had been....in these last few months at stanford he had indeed done wonders in class, and stolen the show on the game court...."so whats the plan for the thanksgiving week end of next month???another bash just before finals hit us????" asked rahul coming out of his past flashbacks..."actually no....i have to go to india...." seeing the surprise on his friends face he explained, "its clashing with a wedding in mumma's family reggie....dad wants me to go with him....n i said yes....mum would have wanted me to go i know...." hearing that reggie just took a swig from his bottle of wine n said "think i could join u???" armaan smiled at his friend knowing the reason for this request....reg would not let him be alone in a family and a country where he was bound to be flooded with the memories of his mothers last days....he nodded his consent without a word.....draining the last of his drink....

*************

~Part 2~

~a fortnight later~

" wow cant believe, a week more and then we are all set to leave for home....um so excited about the wedding ridzi....imagine anji finally in love.....the whole idea sounds out of the universe...." ridhima looked at muskaan with a tired smile "yeh but i wonder if i will be alive to attend the wedding....getting the professors to take my exams early so i can leave in advance was a bad idea...it is sure playing havoc....wrapping up 3 weeks worth of work in one is no cakewalk....n the time just flies away when u want it to stay still so u can get enough revision done for the test....and..."as her eyes fell on the watch "OMG time....shoot muski....i have the library shift in 10minutes....catch ya later" with that she dumped all her stuff from the desk into her backpack, " hey leave the car keys, i gota pick up some gifts for the wedding..." said muskaan as ridhima ran out of the lab, tossing the keys towards her, shutting the lab door behind ....god please i cant get late another day for the shift in the same week now....she thought crossing her fingers silently....
"ridma, i received your mail mentioning you will be gone from next week for about 3 weeks???will you be back before christmas though, to continue the part time shift????" she heard her boss at the library address her the usual wrong way, as she put forth that question, the moment she entered the locker room to push in her bag..."yes megan, i will be gone for 3 weeks, and be back on christmas eve itself....my sister is getting married so i arranged for the professors to test me early...." she said in a relieved voice, thank god megan had not mentioned how she was barely in time for the shift...."i should get going for my shelving shift....there's alot to be done in the shelves assigned to me and i want to wind up all of that before i leave...." megan nodded and said "sure go ahead....n congratulations for your sister i hope you have a fun break....oh n do one thing leave me a written note for your absence just for my records" with that they each went their own way....

************

As she stood on the step stool trying to arrange the books in call number order on the topmost and last shelf for the day, she cursed her self as usual for being the only not quite tall child of the family....it was so hard to reach the topmost books even with the stool she thought balancing herself on tiptoes, as she took the books, 2 at a time from the shelf to put them onto the cart next to her, so she could sort them out n place them back...."hey excuse me, there's nobody at the help desk n i need a little help here so..." ridhima interrupted without looking at the source of the voice "yeh just give me a minute and il be with you..." saying so she dropped the 2 heavy books in her hand onto what she assumed was the cart only to hear an instantaneous "OUCH" she turned spontaneously to see that the books had hit a guy's head since he had moved the cart to approach her with his question, " oh shoot! um so sorry i did not realize u moved the...." she stopped midway in her sentence as he looked back up after picking the fallen books from the ground and offered them to her...."cart" she finished after that pause, not believing her eyes...."peace, girl...my fault, i moved the cart not realizing the consequences, think u could quickly help me with the book, i need to head for practice soon..." practice?? so it was him she thought....AMMY....for moments she was hesitant to even think the name in her head, such was her state of shock...she was not mistaken in recognizing him at all....SHOOT! WHAT IN THE WORLD WAS HE DOING HERE...AT STANFORD...AND IN A LIBRARY OF ALL THE PLACES????seeing her staring at him, he gave her a 'can we proceed now' smile, he was not exactly unaccustomed to such female attention, but as she kept staring without blinking, while he had been slightly rubbing his head where the books had hit him....he was compelled to look carefully n he realized she looked familiar...just like....before he could think ahead she said, "actually um so sorry but i have only 10minutes of the shift remaining n still need to sort alot but..." speaking a bit louder she spoke to somebody behind armaan "hey mike! can u help someone here with a book look up please", and then getting back to her books without eye contact she said "mike will help u out, i beg your pardon for the inconvenience" finishing in a tone which indicated an end to their conversation...he looked at her a bit startled, his presence often subjected him to completely unexpected reactions from his girl fans...but this had definitely been the weirdest ever...in a hurry right then he just left muttering "girls!!!", giving her a last curious glance, shaking his head...ridhima meanwile heaved a sigh of relief....thank god he had not realized who she was....somehow, she did not know why, but she was not keen about re opening windows in her past, least of all through him, of when she had been the meek dominated girl overlooked by everyone despite her obvious skill and intelligence...she had outgrown the image long ago, and had no intentions of being reminded of that period,definitely not from ammy.....but what could he be doing in stanford???must be here for a game....but then why would he need a book from the library????can he even read????ok now thats too much, of course he can...but....oh well she thought, ample work to get back to ridzi.... he left n did not recognize u....so well...good riddance....she got done with the last of the books on the shelf n then walked back to the lockers to collect her belongings....just before walking out she remembered she had to submit a written leave, hastily she scribbled it out, without thinking much, somehow the encounter had produced a passive effect on her wound up nerves she thought, she moved out towards the main desk where her boss was on the phone simultaneously searching the keys for her car.....as she closed in she looked up only to see....HIM????oh no, not again she thought and was going to turn around when megan held onto her arm n while still talking on the phone indicated her to help him check out the books....ridhima looked at her helplessly, as if she was rooted to the spot, for seconds....WAS THE WHOLE UNIVERSE CONSPIRING AGAINST HER????then getting a 'go on' look from megan she moved towards him, and avoiding eye contact she mumbled almost inaudibly, as if afraid of being identified with her voice, which logically she knew deep inside was not possible, "hello! can i help u with those books?" armaan meanwile, though caught up in his own thoughts, mentally trying to work out a feasible solution to meet his preponed deadlines, had not failed to notice the obvious discomfort the girl before him was undergoing, and not for the life of him could he understand how he had propelled it to happen, for one thing he was sure, he was the cause....handing her the books he had a sudden instinct, and thought that might help him analyze what exactly was happening, so he quipped " yeh mike helped me find them, guess u can help me loan them out atleast....isnt this amounting to an overtime now???" much as he tried he could not make that sound like he was offended, because he was not, he was merely puzzled and somehow thats all his tone indicated, though he had wanted to add a reproaching tone to it....she looked up ever so briefly n then back to the monitor before saying in a soft tone not wanting to attract megan's attention, "i apologize for that....just stressed with work...." he felt an instant guilt pang and said spontaneously "oh um sorry to hear that....ummm...here's my id for checking out the books" as she took it from him nodding slightly to his reply she could not avoid reading the name on it just to reconfirm what she knew now without a speck of doubt was a certain fact....but what she saw now, completely paralyzed her with shock, if a greater extent was even possible after the last stroke in the shelving area....the card clearly said 'ARMAAN CHRISTOPHER BENZ' ....ARMAAN???as in THE ARMAAN she thought....its him AMMY.....the basketball guy....the superman????like the guy who pulled her to the dance floor at the party....OMG she thought....this just cant be happening....the day was turning out to be a pandora's box...and then bingo! here comes the next one she thought looking at the books he wanted her to check out...business and finance related literature????this time she was not even shocked, cause she had already outdone any existing records for display of human reactions in shock over the past few minutes....in complete lack of any synchronism of her thoughts, she blurted out without control over her heightening sense of disbelief with each passing second "business and finance???" then seeing his look with raised eyebrows she said in a more composed voice "i mean...interesting...ummmm interesting subjects to study are they????" he gave her 'funny girl' look and said "yeh i like them sure....prefer math to that newton guy's apple theory n attraction laws any day...."and these last words simply jerked her out of the reverie she had slipped into....was that an intended comment????so he had recognized her then and ....interrupting her thoughts he confirmed her worst fears "by the way i think i finally recognized u....." her heart stopped beating in that moment and she could swear she knew what it must feel like when u die of a cardiac arrest....as she heard him continue in his suave tone "ur cleopatra right?????i mean id love to call u by your real name if you would let me know that of course" she heaved a sigh of relief without realizing and then looking back at him she opened her mouth to put up some spontaneous excuse when megan said coming over, "thanks a lot dear....good luck with the exams....and enjoy the wedding!!!" ridhima shot her a genuine smile, not for the wishes, but for getting her out of the tight spot and without a word she moved at the fastest pace she could, before anything else knocked her out completely this time, she felt faint hearted now, n was sure to not survive another 'surprise' she thought.....

***********

OMG WHAT AN EVENING she thought for the umpteenth time as she unlocked the door to her apartment, noticing muski had probably decided to work in her lab that night since all the lights were put out....ammy was armaan...the jr.benz...the guy she had mentored in high school....who had....well she thought...he had never really bothered her except during that mentoring session when he had been so indifferent that she had just given up....that was the whole issue, she had been so insignificant then that people did not even put efforts to bother her....n now here he was....at stanford....the basket ball champ as could have been expected....but a business school student????she had decided to walk back instead of catching the school bus, as she had felt the need for a walk in the fresh air, no productive work could have been done in her then state of mind....now she was back home but her mind was still not at rest....she decided to make herself a cup of coffee before getting down to her last n most hard take home exam....as the coffee brewed in the pot she stood by it absentmindedly thinking......its fine ridzi....its just him....i mean c'mon woman....then u claim to have changed over the years????why did he have that effect on u???why did u after so many years now lose ur head in a situation, which was not even big deal...he just asked u for a book....n thats ur job....so why did u lose ur nerves....no no no....it was just the way it happened she told herself..."completely caught me off guard thats it....yeh thats what....was stanford the only place left in the world for him to have joined.....well now i know it, so fine...yeh now il be alright....confident n relaxed again" with that she sighed deeply n then spoke again "yeh ur good to go now girl....and anyways" she was interrupted by the doorbell....murmuring "that must be muski" she went to open the door....and there it was...the last final blow of the day....the perfect grand finale to the disastrous evening she thought as she came face to face with him again.....as he said in hesitant voice "hey!" she looked at him, and then as he ran is fingers through his hair, her eyes did not want to believe that it was him....as he stood smiling and started "sorry i know this is abrupt but i tried catching hold of u outside the library itself, just could not spot u anywhere out there and i dont even know ur name so ....." but before he could speak any further, she, deciding it was time to end all this, only then would she regain her confidence and calm, she found her voice, n spoke as sternly as she could manage "look, i apologized for the book thing right????why are u stuck with knowing my name????n for heavens sake stop stalking me at least" as the words slowly dawned upon him, his smile changed to a frown, and then his eyes narrowed, and as she moved to slam the door shut, thinking the message had been conveyed loud n clear, he pulled it back firmly, and she just could not move it anymore...and he said "wait wait wait....hang on.....WHAT DID U JUST SAY????" he literally bellowed into her face now....he felt like all the doubts which had been welling inside him had just displayed themselves as this outburst owing to her last statement....he felt furious beyond the control of his wits....here he was trying to help this girl out of her shyness, and do her a favor, despite the cold shoulder she had given him all the times they had met.....and she?????and as she stood transfixed to the spot hearing him yell, he continued "I, Armaan??? is stalking a girl????OH MY GOD...i dont believe u could even get that thought in ur head....who the hell do u think u r anyways????cleopatra for real????giving me that weird attitude all this time....and u think if um being chivalrous enough to not give it back to u, u can do or say what u want????" as she still stood rooted to the point, he pulled her hand and put a paper into it saying "the lady at the desk said u forgot that in there while checking out my books, so i offered to drive along n get it to u....but no no no....bad idea...." then ruffling his hair in frustration he looked upwards trying to control his anger....and then looking back at her he continued "stalking u???....oh please, get a life...what in the world possessed you to believe that even for a second...." with that he let go of the door.....turned around and walked off, leaving her clutching onto the paper he had thrust in her hands...

************

~Part 3~

As she finally prepared to catch a much procrastinated short sleep at about 5AM, after managing to do a considerable part of her exam somehow, the turmoil of emotions which she had put aside with considerable effort all came back crashing, n this time she just did not have it in her to push it away....so she lay awake tossing in her bed....ammy had changed nothing about himself except his name she thought....he was still the same as he had been....the star student she had detested for his seemingly easily gained popularity....n yet she couldnt help but admire him.....she admitted the latter after overcoming a boulder of opposing emotions....but somewhere inside she knew it was true.....it always had been....as she thought deeply about what it was that had made her react the way she had today on seeing him she knew it was nothing but escapism.....he was not to blame in the least for what had happened.....she had just never thought her past would rebound into her life so soon.....her thoughts wandered back to that archimedes like 'eureka' moment which had changed her life completely, had helped surface the real me in a matter of moments; which had been dormant for all the past years....it was during the second year of her undergrad when using the newton's laws in a project theory, she had remembered what ammy had said to her during the peer mentor session...and it had put her to thinking, for some unknown reason she looked at it in a way she had never done before....she admitted, with much reluctance, that he had not been exactly wrong....n then the irony of comparing a physics law with a pick up line had just made her laugh....for real....n for the first time she realized that he had not been stubborn to learning, he had just thought in a way other than the obvious....n then it struck her, wasnt that the truth beneath all science????to think outside the box????thats exactly what the great sir newton himself had done....thought of gravity from a falling apple, like c'mon, he wasnt the only person in the world who had seen an apple fall was he????somehow....the chain of thoughts that were triggered that eventful night had changed her perceptions in life, and she had concluded that she had always worked diligently for every task she put herself to in order to be what she was ideally supposed to be, but perhaps not quite what she wanted to be....she had figured that being everybody's ideal was not the trick....u had to be yourself...the unique yourself....which was nobody other than you....doing what u wanted to trully do not what u thought was the accepted best....she had realized that all her life she tried to keep everyone around her happy by sacrificing her self identity without realizing because it was so totally a part of her character to redeem evevryone's wishes that after a point she had lost distinction between what she wanted to do and what she did, fulfilling everyones dreams except her own, and so everyone had just taken it for granted that she would do only what was considered right and best....she figured always being the best had sapped the fun of being so.....just being top of class was not what she wanted in life....she wanted to enjoy being so....n that would not be possible if she kept trying to be the ideal person....ideal people, like ideal situations in physics, were only theoretical, and in practical implementation, imperfections and assumptions would creep inevitably...then it was real....not just theoretical....the realization had changed her attitude in life....from there on she had followed her instincts for everything n not the rules set for her....AND HE HAD BEEN RESPONSIBLE FOR IT she thought now....

for she had always wanted to be like him, loved , popular, happy being herself....and she had put everything into making that happen, but it had not....until that night when she had realized that you could not make happiness happen....u had to feel it in doing what u did....thats what he had been like....she had never known him as a person, only as a celebrity, but somewhere she knew now this was the real him....he was a big shot, who followed his own head and heart and nothing else.....

and this brought her back to the current moment....as she thought over the entire evening again, she realized her analysis was correct....he had not changed at all....he had followed his instincts again, and thats why he had bothered to come all the way to give her those papers....she admitted somewhat grudgingly, with a pang of regret, that he was right....there would be no reason for him to follow a girl like her, let alone stalk...and it had been her own hype of him, which had biased her interpretation of his sudden visit...n then with guilt, she thought of what she had said to him....she did not think it would matter much to him or that he would even remember this evening again, but within herself she decided she had to apologize somehow when fate would give her the apt chance to do so.....for somewhere she believed and wished, that this wasnt the last of him in her life....she was not smitten by his looks, nor taken by his charms....just some attraction....as she closed her eyes, she opened them almost the same instant and grinned thinking....THE LAW OF ATTRACTION!!!

**************

"ammy this is so boring man.....not even a single chic in sight so far...its almost midnight n still another hour before we board the plane n...." he noticed armaan was busy in a sports magazine.... frowning, as he started to speak with indignation, armaan looked at him and said in a serious tone "first, its armaan not ammy when will u start remembering ...." and then with a sly grin he added as he noticed something looking beyond rahul..."and....there is something interesting for u reg my man...look behind u" as rahul turned around to see in the direction following armaan's gaze he saw...HER???quickly turning back he muttered in a low tone "is that her????omg.....dude u gota save me man.....she just goes into a dream when um talking to her n its so embarrasing.....i mean i love the attention, but not from her man....omg omg...no no no....i have to move out of here before she sees me...." as he made a move armaan held him back "too late for that dude....she has obviously seen u which is why she is walking towards us....n anyways, whats with u????she is beautiful and dotes on u.....and seems like a nice girl and"....he added giving him a slanting smile" she is much better than all those brainless cheerleaders u hang around with....atleast she would help u with the homework!!!!...in fact.." said armaan his grin widening, "um sure u like her too.... ur so totally possessive about her that why u've never let even me meet her...." he completed winking at him.....rahul retorted with clenched teeth "dude, u know i cannot mess with this girl.....anybody else but her......if dad came to know, um dead.....and ..." "hey reggie" hearing her chirpy voice behind him, rahul gave an 'um dead now for sure' expression and then turned around with a forced smile "hey muskaan, what a pleasant surprise ....what are u doing here???" before she could answer armaan quipped "well i guess its a possibility she came here to catch a flight reg, " and stepping ahead, then smiling at muskaan with a twinkle of mischief he said "hey beautiful, um armaan....and ????" muskaan interrupted him with a smile, shaking his extended hand and replied " i know ur armaan, who doesnt....um muskaan...nice to meet u finally, reg never introduces me to u even though i insist for it all the time..... n yeh we are catching a flight to india" armaan looked at her, a bit surprised she had said all of that without any of those artificial flutters which he was used to receiving from girls.....she had been natural....no jitters and a lovable smile....."we???so there is someone else with...." and before armaan could speak further, he heard a voice from behind him which made him stop short his mouth still open as he heard her sing "happy birthday to u, happy birthday to u, happy birthday dearest muskaan happy birthday to u" he turned around while she still continued singing, her face hidden behind a huge teddy, and as she walked past him, her face still hidding, wearing a punjabi red suit, he finally felt a piece fall into place somewhere in the jigsaw of his mind.....it hit him now, the suit, indian, ...omg thought now i know.....when he could not even see her, what had not been evident the couple of times he had been with her face to face....it had been irking him ever since that halloween's night....the faint familiarity, n now, this moment when her face was actually not visible to him he realized who she was.....as she removed the teddy from the front of her face, putting it down, and pulled muskaan into a hug twirling her around, they both came face to face.....his guess confirmed.....and both were for that long moment completely zapped....for different reasons of course........

**************

~Part 4~

As muskaan pulled her out of the hug, ridhima slowly came back from her initial no reaction state, and then almost with a jerk withdrew her gaze from the last face she had expected to see here....as she glanced back at muskaan, who was smiling deeply cause of the surprise she found her voice, but "did u like it???" was all she could utter and before muskaan could answer, armaan who had also finally come out of the shock of realization and now had a different air about him said looking at her "of course she must have, unexpected surprises always make people..... happy," he said the last bit in an intended way, without meaning to...but his reaction was just spontaneous and even he was unable to figure what was causing it....then kicking himself mentally he looked at muskaan and said "so someones birthday girl huh!!!...." then pulling her into a light hug he said, "happy birthday beautiful!!!" and then he let her go, she was brimming with happiness said in an excited voice " omg ridz, this is amazing....i thought u forgot in the excitement of the wedding....n u sly woman, went to the bathroom supposedly huh leaving me to get all that heavy luggage checked in alone....." saying so muskaan hugged ridhima again who smiled, still partially shaken....then hearing rahul clear his throat they let go and rahul moved towards muskaan to give her a hug, then changing his mind just extended his hand and said "happy birthday muskaan" and as the three of them just chattered, while ridhima was completely conscious of the gaze on her......armaan was constantly looking at ridhima hearing and speaking nothing, but his mind racing with thoughts....she had changed a lot, the glasses were gone, to reveal her beautiful light brown eyes, the hair were left open, and......he figured he had not recognized her suddenly today, it had been coming to him n then falling just short of a realization for the previous times they met....perhaps her dress today had finally done the trick ....and observing her top to bottom he realized looks was not the only thing that had changed about her....then he remembered her discomfort in his presence that evening at the library....so u knew all along who i was he thought to himself, and u prefered letting me stay in the dark, preferred no confrontations with ur most worthless student did u lady physics???so what were u avoiding....witnessing a new me....or showing off the transformed u???...slowly a smile crept on his lips, and his eyebrows arched slightly as he thought....hmmmm so someone gained expertise at stuff other than physics....but u did not realize what u were up against i guess.....playing smart here, are we????...alright missy enough of ur hide and seek....i know this game and all its rules....n uv broken enough of them by hiding urself keeping me ignorant about who it was that i had to find....lets play it fair now....u wana run away, lets see how far u go......aloud he said...."well well well, if the happy reunion is over, id say this calls for a substantial treat....ummm reg, buddy....why dont u find the beautiful birthday angel a nice table close to the cafe that side while i go fetch us a cake to occasion this moment...." he did not miss noticing ridhima with a side look as her expression clearly read 'arent u missing someone over here'....letting the pause have its effect he turned towards her n then giving an 'oops! um sorry look' he continued, "i meant i will go get the cake with..." a questioning pause this time, "with her...." then looking back at rahul n muskaan he saw rahul was going to oppose but before he could armaan said "reg, dude ur still standing????Waiting for what man....go on....." rahul gave armaan a murderous look only to get back a naughty smile, and as they made a move, armaan turned towards ridhima and signalled with his arm saying "please....ladies first..." she glared at him, with an underlying helplessness and walked ahead...as he moved to match step with her he said in a slight whisper like hoarse voice "i am sorry..." as she looked up into his eyes all puzzled, he continued with a meaningful glance " armaan....i am sorry armaan....isnt it time u said those words honey???" she frowned at him addressing her that way "huh???"..."yeh...u owe me that id say....wat do u think, about time is it???" she looked at him in irritation now, it was true that she had wanted to apologize to him for the other evening, but this guy, she thought, why was he was always such a pain....speaking stiffly she said "yeh...um sorry....i was rude.... n ....."... "n u arent being too polite apologizing like that....but ur forgiven anyhow...lets say um in good mood....anyways so i guess its time for a formal introduction finally...u already know my name....so that leaves us with....ur name..."he paused keenly observing her conflicting expressions as she, he knew without doubt, was trying to find a way to wriggle out of this yet again....he continued "which i guess i finally know...."as she looked up at him startled he said in a low tone as if saying it aloud might be a bad idea...."i dont mean to embarras u but....well....its a weird name wouldnt u agree????" as her startled look transformed to an indignant one, he spoke again before she could retort "i mean, who likes being addressd by names of hotels....RITZ....how about i continue with cleopatra??it has a definite edge in this case id say"he said all of that with a teasing grin, while ridhima just stared at him puzzled, until she realized what he was thinking....she was relieved for a moment...so he still did not know it was riddhima....he was just saying a wrong version of what muskaan had said.....and making fun of her????then she got all mad at him again....why was he such a bloated ego jerk, aloud she said, "its ridz, with a 'd' not 't'...." with that turned her head jerking her hair hard n walked away towards the only counter with bakery stuff....following her lead, he shook his head still laughing and said to himself "ridz with a 'd'...yeh right ms. 'r' for ridhima....' as she stood deciding the flavor, he said from behind, "could u pack us the strawberry cake???" cringing her nose she said "eeks!!! strawberry thats way tooooo sweet..." looking back she told the guy behind the counter, "pack the coffee cake n could u..." he interrupted "i should have guessed ur choice had to be the bitter coffee against the sweet strawberry, ms. ritz with a 't'....but that lovely friend of urs seems to be an angel.....um sure she prefers sweet stuff..." looking at the guy again he said "strawberry please, its final...." she glared at him without masking it now and said "u know what, do what you want, why do i even care....but pleasssse, just stay away from me, let me live in peace...."saying so she was going to walk off when he said "thats kinda impossible" she stopped curious to hear what he was going to say, but without turning,as he said "cause the harder u keep pushing me away um bound to be pulled closer by the same force, thats how it goes right???by 'the law..... of..... attraction' ???" as she swiveled around instantly by 180 degrees he continued smiling at her a raised eyebrow and said in a softer voice "every action has an EQUAL... and OPPOSITE reaction....i daresay i am entitled to a pass grade this time, ms. ridhima gupta????

now he had completely caught her off guard....bulls eye he thought, thats what u call the rebound shot after missing the real one.....how long did u think u were gona continue winning.....the guy behind the counter broke the stare between the two saying "that would be $40...." armaan turned around to pay while ridhima stepped ahead and putting the cash on the counter....armaan took it away n and handed a card to the guy and offered her the cash back without looking at her....she said "no thanks i dont need u to pay, u can keep it...." he looked at her now and replied "um not doing it for u....its my treat for muskaan" then taking her hand and putting the cash into it "n now if u dont mind, we created enough scene here already...." with that he walked off with an inside smile, leaving her to collect the cake....while she felt it was going to be hard to check her temper much longer why did he always assume things would be done his way...collecting the cake she was going to walk back too when the guy at the counter said, "hey u forgot to collect ur boyfriend's card...here u go...." armaan who had not moved far enough to miss those words stopped in his tracks...and then smirked...aaawwwww ridhima....our mutual ATTRACTION was so visible even to that guy...." saying so he laughed out loud....only to find her standing beside him offering him his card without giving him a glance, and visibly fuming in rage...." omg sweetie...ur the first girlfriend iv had who is ready to give me my card back without overdrawing the account limit!!!" she looked up at him partly startled and partly furious n he winked at her making her go red without her meaning to, and then as she turned and walked away he ran to catch up with her and then said "ok peace....seriously....game is up" as she looked up at him he extended his hand and said "friends???" she just stood a few seconds looking at him trying to read his mind, before giving him her hand and then saying "guess we should get back to them now...." he replied letting go of her hand after holding onto it a momemt too long she felt " sure....so where are u guys headed to in india..." "my sister's getting married in delhi, thats where i will be most of the time and ...." " o wow lady, cant believe how lucky u are, keep going places i go.....u sure its not u who is stalking me now??"...as she looked up at him giving him a nasty look he said grinning "i thought u changed but i guess looks can be deceptive, its still just as easy to irritate u ..." then laughing he continued "alright ...kidding...we both are going to delhi for a wedding as well....wanted to accompany dad"....."who's wedding" she asked...."well its my mother's"....he paused at the word, and then with what appeared to her to be a suddenly altered low voice he resumed "my mother's nephew i think....um not quite sure....just wanted to go with dad, did not check the details well" she gaped at him..."ur going to india all the way for a wedding and ur not even sure who it is????"he just spoke looking anywhere except at her "yeh well.....wedding is not my real purpose".....then turning to face her "anyways, ur sisters wedding huh????u must be excited....is it the usual Indian arranged marriage???" she shook her head and said "no, its the guy she has been dating for a few months now....i have not met him in person but if di fell for him, he must be phenomenal....." with that they had reached the table.....so they both took seats as ridhima put the cake before muskaan, rahul opened it for her while armaan handed her a knife he had picked up at the counter....the moment she saw the cake, muskaan looked up in surprise at ridhima and said "ridz????U GOT A STRAWBERRY CAKE????" before anyone else could speak rahul said "nah it must be ammy.....strawberry is the only flavor he eats....can u beat that???the big shot superbasketballer with a choice that girly" as ridhima giggled both she and rahul hi fived, and armaan just said with a sarcastic smile "yeh whatever...and its armaan, not ammy for heavens sake reg...." then turning to face muskaan he asked "the question is do YOU like it???"...she nodded her head vigorously and said "absoultely armaan...but ridzi never ever gets it....shes just stuck at coffee and i dont mind that either so we compromise on that....but strawberry is my abs fav...." armaan grinned looking at ridhima giving her the 'see-i-told-u-' look and then turning back to muskaan he said "u know what beautiful, um getting a gut feel....we're gona be getting along fantastic....long way to go together i guess!!" he ended winking at her but was slightly disappointed to see that ridhima had not reacted much the way he wanted...no jealousy????just plain indifference....hmmmm he thought....dont worry i always know how to get my way....then followed the usual cake cutting, singing, messing up with the icing and all that, at the end of which they were all laughing and chatting like they had been friends longtime...at one such moment ridhima just couldnt help but stare at armaan, as he laughed in pure glee over some joke he and muskaan had cracked at rahul....and she thought, he doesnt seem so stuck up with that endless attitude when u just see him like that....infact right now he seems so innocently and trully happy....and as he turned to catch her staring at him his smile changed to a curious one, and then a naughty teasing look, and then he slowly whispered close to her ears "spellbound???i have that effect on people!!" and then winking at her got back to his joke with muskaan....while she just shook her head in disgust and regret wondering what had made her think that way about him even for a moment....jerk! she muttered....then as she thought she would get up and get a glass of water he pulled her back holding onto her wrist and said looking at them all...."hang on....u girls must be flying the british airways too if your flight time is same as ours right???" as they both nodded, ridhima did not quite like the smile that started spreading on armaans face as he continued "awsome....where r ur seats???" the moment he said that both rahul and ridhima shot him a really skeptical look now, for their own individual reasons....while muskaan quipped "we r in economy, last block....booked the tickets quite late thats all we could get," she said shrugging..."well muski what r friends for....i have a perfect birthday gift for u."...and looking at rahul he said "reg is always saying he never gets to spend time with friends other than us basketball guys"....then turning back to muski..."and then u both seem to be such close friends....we have our seats in the business class, why dont u go join him there and i can just ...." shooting ridhima a quick sly look before changing it to a sweet innocent smile "join ur friend here... i guess" ....he saw rahul was about to argue so he interrupted "its ok reg i dont mind at all seriously i mean its her birthday she deserves a special time and well dont worry about me," looking back at ridhima again who was also about to protest, "i will manage somehow."...he finished with a sigh.....muskaan meanwile tugged at his sleeve to get his attention " r u serious???its fine....n.."....."no no no muskaan i absolutely insist....its the least i can do..." .and then squeezing her hand with a genuine smile he added..."i mean it..."... as ridhima realized that muskaan really was accepting armaans bait she got horrified....oh no she thought....the whole journey back with him....shoot....no ridzi do something...and so she said..." armaan its really very sweet of u but muski and i have a lot of plans to discuss for the wedding u know and..." ..."o c'mon do u always have to be a spoilsport???u guys are gona be together like all through your visit....let muskaan enjoy her birthday away from u atleast....ok how about we let the birthday girl decide...watsay beautiful???" and he grinned looking at muskaan, as she just shook her head at the two of them...they had not left a single chance to show each other down in the past 45 minutes, n somehow muskaan realized, there was more to these two than she knew...yet....she would have definitely not accepted the idea but for this hunch of hers, cause as far as rahul n she were concerned, she knew it was just a silly crush....but her intuition said she should join in on this plan...whatever it would lead to....and so she spoke aloud, much to the horror of rahul and ridhima, while widening armaans grin "sure dude....um game!!!"

************

~Part 5~


"good morning everybody....we welcome you on behalf of British Airways, to what we hope will be a pleasant journey for all our passengers...We are now ready to have the passengers from flight BA 7456 board the plane...please come to the terminal 3 lounge ....we will begin with the passengers in the business class...thank you...." hearing the announcement armaan made the next move quickly before muskaan could be influenced into a change of mind...."alright two of you leave then...we will see u at the stop over in frankfurt....have fun!!" rahul, giving him a last nasty look, turned to leave and so did muskaan smiling and waving back....then she just turned back n hugging ridhima whispered...."this is ur punishment...i would not have ditched u if u told me urself what u still have to tell me...but for now it waits...till we get home..." with that she broke apart and went ahead with rahul....as armaan stood smiling watching them disappear ridhima cleared her throat to gain his attention, he turned around to find her giving him a sarcastic questioning look, waiting for him to explain..."what???" he said....and before she could speak..."actually, no i dont wana know what....um not upto lectures at this early morning hour much as ud like to give me one um sure....i have a better idea....um gona go grab a book for the flight.....how about u get one too, so u treat us both to some peace n quiet...." she just glared at him, and stomping her foot hard on the ground walked off to the ladies washroom....at least that was one place he would not enter and she could spend some 'armaan free minutes' in peace....as she walked away she cursed muskaan in an undertone for all she was facing, and would have to put up with for the next 22 hours.....


***********


as they found their seats, he put his carry on into the upper storage shack, and offered to do the same for her, but she just stood there tapping her foot, indicating that she was waiting for him to move so she could fix her bag herself....he merely shrugged and sat down taking the window seat.....she fit her bag into the shack, with considerable trouble since she wasnt quite tall, while he just looked at her shaking his head, knowing she would not let him help.....she had decided to not speak at all....that was the only way she thought, of surviving the flight with him by her side...cause nothing she would say could ever extract a normal reply or reaction out of him.....why the heck was he such a pain she asked herself for the infinte time that evening.....as the announcement was made for take off they both made a move to get their seatbelts on, but armaan moved in the wrong direction, not having travelled much on economy class he was used to independent seating...and so their heads collided "ouch!" said ridhima giving him an angry look and rubbing her head while he said "oops um sorry, got the wrong side...." as she said nothing, he looked at her with narrowed eyes, and said "what now???they dont tax u extra for speaking here on the plane missy" as she shot him another furious look, he said "oooohhh now um scared....ok seriously what???that was an accidental collision, n i did not make half that amount of fuss when u dropped those 2 books weighing a ton on my head....i could have suffered from memory loss for all u know....." seeing that she did not even react to his awful joke he figured he would just have to explain....so he said...."fine i give up....u wana know why i sent muskaan with reg????" now ur talking she thought and gave him the first look of interest in the last 20minutes....as he continued "i always thought u were dumb at everything that was not physics n now ur confirming it....." this time she just gave him a tired look, not wanting to argue anymore even with silent expressions, and said "can u ever make the point without digressing into a discussion about how hopeless i am in every possible way??? he grinned at her frustration, it was so much fun to irk her, cause she was such a soft target, then comimg back to the point he said in a more solemn tone "well u make it hard to not comment like that...r u blind to the obvious chemistry between them???look, u probably dont care about ur friend, but i give a dam to reg n his life....he spends too much time with worthless chicks, and iv seen muskaan at all our games....she absolutely dotes on him....n she is a really nice girl....the only one perhaps i would like to see in his life for real....and he will not make any moves with her cause she is a close family friends daughter, he's just not the kind to take a chance on something which involves his family he cares too much about them....but i know him....somewhere he loves the attention he gets from her....if she gets late at the end of a game we have won, i see him searching for her in the crowd unintentionally....he doesnt know this, but i have seen pictures of the two of them from our game celebration bashes hidden away under his clothes in the closet....he just would not realize it, nor give it a chance if something did not make it happen....u know he never even lets me meet her cause he knows um going to bring this up....u still think i should have skipped this golden oppertunity????" as he finished he looked up to find her staring at him with an intent yet unbelieving look.....as he raised his eyebrows in a questioning way she spoke up, in a voice he had not heard from her so far, it was genuine, concerned and reflected her surprise, "armaan this is....i mean....its just that.....gosh!i cant believe ur even capable of thinking this way....i mean...." before she could express herself more he spoke with mock indignation..."although badly put forth it was, il take that as a compliment from u ms gupta, perhaps the first n the last um likely to encounter for myself between the two of us....." ridhima shook her head and trying to explain " no ur right i didnt mean it to sound that way....somehow i just...." n she left it at that not knowing what words to explain in that she never thought he could fit this image so perfectly as well.....the sensitivity he had projected completely yet pleasantly took her by surprise, she had not seen, nor expected to see this face of him.....armaan meanwile figured what was going on in her head....n then remembering that he was not intending to be her angel guy he said with a grin..."alright whatever...u keep thinking...." and getting his book out of the bag "i have more interesting stuff to do than hear u praise me, theres no dearth of girls in my life who do that..." he said the last part giving her an indifferent look, but was keen to observe her reaction....he couldnt see why, but getting attention from her seemed to be affecting his actions....he was coming up with all those gimmicks just to trouble her....n he was intentionally mentioning the female craze over him trying to draw the jealous streak he had never failed to obtain this way from a girl, in fact mostly he had to put no effort into that at all....but somehow, the fact that she did not look too interested in his fanship and stardom did not come to him as an acceptable idea....he was used to being the loved guy, the charmer, the spellbounder, but much though he had teased her in the past couple of hours of how she was attracted to him, he knew she wasnt....at least not the way he was used to witnessing.....now what could be the reason for that he wondered....a voice at that moment broke his chain of thoughts, and he realized with a start, his stare at her, which he thought with relief she had not noticed....he looked up to see an airhostess who said "sir, i am told u exchanged your business class seat with a girl from this section of the plane...could i see ur ticket once again, just a confirmation formality...." "sure why not" he said, flashing her a charming dimpled smile, which had never failed to leave an effect....well not yet, he thought giving a sideway glance to ridhima....he fished into his wallet for the ticket and then finding it he leaned over ridhima, since she was on the outer aisle seat to hand it over to the airhostess.....for that one moment, as he inhaled her jasmine fragrance, he was unable to check his reaction n just closed his eyes in the pleasant effect, but then he lost sensation of her rhythmic warm breath on his neck within a moment, causing him to open his eyes, realizing she had slightly stiffened, n was definitely holding onto her breath...that brought a small smile to his face, which he quickly masked and got back to his seat, while maintaining his intent gaze on ridhima, who, as he had anticipated, had definitely been affected by those short moments of proximity....he grinned looking out of the window...she was a mere mortal after all, nobody could resist the charms of jr, sir benz!!! and then turned back to the airhostess with a normal look, as she returned his ticket saying "thank you sir, that will be all...enjoy the flight!" ridhima meanwile was still recovering from that moment....she kicked herself mentally....whats up with u ridzi....what happened in that moment n...goodness gracious!....thank god he moved away, or i was really gona have done something insane...the urge to just make him stay that way his cologne smelling heavenly was just....NO NO NO....wat crap....no ridzi get a grip girl....thats what he is exceptionally good at....for heavens dont add to his list of target girls he can boast of....he has enough of them for u to adorn his achievemnt list.....with that she faced the other way trying to distract herself with other thoughts....as she saw a mum playing with her little kid, she smilied unknowingly, and seeing her smile armaan followed her gaze.....it made him stiffen, while she found the site so cute that she turned back to find some candy in her purse to give the kid, but she froze to her seat as she saw armaan's expression.....he was looking at the same mother child scene too, except that...huh????his eyes looked like they were getting red, and...no it couldnt be....but yet it seemed like there was a threat of tears????as she spontaneouly placed her hand on his arm, he jerked out of the scene n looked away towards the window....then within seconds as he looked back towards her, trying desperately to say something n break the silence, ridhima said breaking the gaze right away..."what book is that u got????" picking it up, she said "kane and able...oh thats the best archer work iv read...just love it....specially the matthew lester character, though they kill him even before the book is half done...." armaan smiled thankfully, he knew without her saying that she had saved him an explaination which he could in no way offer, and had let go of the situation, which no doubt had given rise to several questions in her mind....but since she had been considerate enough to give him the break, he took her bait and then getting back his naughty grin with a little effort he said "thankx a ton miss know it all....il have that book back, thank you, before u reveal the rest of the plot to me without me starting with page 1....." she looked at him, angry now, here she was helping him out, and look at this guy "aloud she said "dont know why i even bothered to......never mind...." with that she turned her face the other way again, while armaan smiled, knowing what she had stopped herself from saying...and he thought, silly girl....but i guess she isnt that bad....in fact....i guess she is quite sweet after all, if u dont rub onto her wrong side....swiftly he pulled out what he had got for her from his laptop bag and before she knew, he thrust a book right under her chin....she turned around, and he urged her with his eyes to take it, which she did, and read the title 'EXODUS' by leon uris.....as she looked back at him quizzically he explained, "well when i got a book for myself i figured i should buy u one as well....i mean its no match to my company of course, but since i wont be chatting much, i got u something worthwile to spend ur time on as well...." before she could interrupt "and yeh i was going to get u a science fiction, but stopped just in time....i guessed u must have already read them all, so i got this....its miles away from anything scientific....n one of my personal favorites...hope u like it...." she just looked at him, a couple of moments not knowing what to say, this guy was so weird....she would never figure out what he was really like.....but for then she just took the book and said a quiet 'thanks' and opened to read it.......


***********


"oh no....ridz matthew lester just died n u were right he is such a ...." he stopped as his eyes fell on her face....she had dozed off, with her reading glasses on, clutching on to the book.... he had been too engrossed in reading for the past almost couple of hours and had not seen her fall off to sleep.....that was the way he was when he got hooked to a new book....now as he looked at her, he smiled inevitably, her head had fallen off towards the aisle, finding no support, a slight frown on her face due to the uncomfortable position he guessed, but even that had not kept her from sleeping....must have been tired he thought...gently, and cautiously trying not to wake her up he moved her head on the inside, so she could rest it on the seat, but much as he tried it would not stay, so at long last, he just made it rest on his shoulder lowering himself in his seat to match her short height....as he felt her clutch onto his shoulder for further support in her sleep, while a smile formed on her lips as she snuggled into her now comfortable headrest.....removing her glasses he thought...,OMG...shes such an angel...well when she is sleeping that is, he thought with a naughty grin...and got back to reading his book.....


************

~Part 6~

As she opened her eyes, slowly, she remembered where she was.....she must have slept really long she thought and quite like a log, for she was taking so much time getting back to her surroundings, n then with a start she realized where her head was resting, and hastily moved to sit straight in her own seat, armaan meanwile looked up from his book, as he felt the head lift off his shoulder and said "how was the beauty sleep missy???" she looked at him, slightly blushing and said in a lower tone "i ummmm... did not realize....i mean, u could have just woken me up u know....sorry for the trouble" she said a bit awkwardly while armaan still grinning didnt intend to let go of the chance and said "oh c'mon why dont u just admit that was the best sleep of ur life....all girls love to get an oppertunity like that with me...." as he saw a slight frown form on her face, he said further "well personally i dont mind, a beautiful lady resting on my shoulder..."as she looked at him in surprise with a small smile replacing her frown, he continued "except that u r neither....." seeing her look change to an indignant one now, he couldnt help laughing while she just continued staring at him in disgust until he stopped laughing and then gave him a nasty look, in response to which he laughed a bit more and said in betwen giggles "OMG ur hilarious ridz.....they should put u up in an exhibition some place in london ...ur sure to give the master of all expressions Mr. Bean a run for his money i can bet...how do u even do that????i mean the speed with which u alter ur expressions....OMG....just so...."and he burst out laughing again...while she just sighed deeply cursing being stuck with a jerk like him....when he finally stopped she said "u know ur lucky to be a sports star...its probably the only reason girls cling to u the way they do.....or with ur lack of etiquettes , correction, ABSENCE of etiquettes, girls would not spare u a glance or thought....."... "well um sorry to say uv just got an extremely bad taste in that case honey.....theres a lot more than my sports stardom which attracts beautiful ladies, of course now you would not know all that....." and before she could interrupt..."i do wonder though how ur boyfriend ever manages to deal with u????" and with that he looked at her intently, he did not have a reason in the world to give a thought to this issue, but some spontaneous impulse had made him add that last statement, n now he was waiting for her to reply, not sure of what he was hoping to hear from her...ridhima meanwile was taken by shock again, gosh this guy really did talk smart to get his answers she thought....not finding an escape out of his question she said, "excuse me i need to use the washroom..." and got up before he could stop her.....while he muttered to himself "no answer????now how do i interpret that???no boyfriend, or a relation she doesnt want to discuss????" without speaking aloud ahead of that he knew what he hoped the case was....then shaking his head he said "hang on dude....why do u even care....ok yeh u know what, um just plain curious....have not known too many girls like her, kinda curious to know what kind of guys they like and fall for....yeh of course, you should always update ur knowledge base about female issues, never know what comes in handy when....well...guess il have to await another chance to get that answer out of her...." with that he got back to his book again, but somewhere in the back of his head, he was still wondering what her answer would have been......




**********




As they stood next to the conveyor belts, armaan trying to get the bags off one by one, while ridhima trying to call muskaan as she had still not spotted the two of them....in fact they had missed them at frankfurt too, since muskaan had called excitedly to tell her that she n rahul were at a chocolate shop where he was buying her some for her birthday...and ridz thought about what armaan had told her, and decided to give them space, while armaan insisted she should accompany him for something he had to show her....it turned out to be the music store....he took her to the Q jam machine and fixed the headphones on her head n played a track.....as she heard it she wondered why it was so familiar....it was rock, she knew cause muskaan was a die hard rock freak, and always had that stuff playing in the room....ridhima meanwile did not mind it until it got way too harsh....but this was nice....n familiar....she had heard it before she was sure but felt like long ago, "what song is that iv heard it i ...." and before she could speak another word he cupped her mouth, his face showing shock, then he looked at other people around smiling at them apologetically, and looking back at her his hand still covering her mouth as he pulled off her headphones, with the other hand n said in a reproaching whisper..."r u insane??? why did u yell that loud, um not deaf u know...." then as she looked around at the attention she had caught, she started turning red in her face a bit embarresed, and a bit conscious since he had still not let go of her mouth....she realized that he had forgotten to do so, so she slowly pulled it off with her own hands and said in what would have have been an indignant voice had she not been so embarrased at the moment "um sorry, ....but it isnt my fault, i did not realize i was that loud cause u turned the volume of the track so high....n then u know all these rock songs....too much noise n no song....." he looked at her a bit offended, and asked "u thought that track was just a lot of noise????" she nodded her head, then shook it n seeing his confused expression she said "well much as id like to say it was horrid, since apparently u must like it alot to make me hear it, i have to admit u dont have a tragic taste...it was definitely a better one from the lot....i could hear the lyrics, n they actually made sense....music was not bad....in fact i kinda liked the guitar strumming in the background all through i guess...." and she paused as she saw his wide smile....puzzled with what she had said to make him so delighted she gave him a quizzical look, in response to which he put his arm over her shoulder, brought the CD cover in front of her from behind him, holding onto it with his free hand, and then as he moved his finger from the hand around her shoulder towards the cd to point at something, she inevitably got pulled into his hold around her tighter, which made her gasp ever so slightly....omg she thought, not the cologne again....while he, not getting a reaction from her for what he was showing looked to see her eyes lightly shut, and he guessed what was happening....he smiled even more, his dimples digging deeper, and then whispered into her ear slightly, "heylo????um not showing u a horror flick, u can open ur eyes n see its just a CD cover...." she opened her eyes instantaneously now emabarrsed to an extent she could not hide, she knew....but to avoid thinking anymore about it she looked at what he was pointing...it said " Stanfy Rockrz: lead guitarist- Armaan Christopher Benz, ....." she did not read ahead of that, just looked up at him and could not stop herself from saying "omg ur on the band????o yeh i remember, u were a guitarist in high school too right????" as he grinned nodding, she smiled seeing his excitement, so pure n obvious....as he said "yeh thats the new record we brought out a fortnight ago....it was awsome doing these tracks, since it was my first album here in stanfy.....and well the track i just played for u is ....well special...." he went off into a dazed look...which was happy yet solemn...then something brought him back, perhaps her intense gaze upon him....he continued "and apparently we hit the charts quite high and ..." as he rambled on excitedly, her audio senses faded out gradually, cause in his daze he seemed to have tightened his grip around her and now as he lead her out of the store, still chattering excitedly....all she could think of was how comforting his hold was....she was no longer feeling a jitter from his touch....in fact ideally she should have shook his grip off herself, but she felt so relaxed that way, that unconsciously she let it stay, seeing him talk, hearing nothing......

she was brought out of her thoughts as she heard muskaan's voice bellow into her ears from the other side of the phone..."HELLO????RIDZI???" as she answered without further delay "yeh... yeh um here muskaan, y u yelling in my ear....just wanted to ask where u both are....armaan is getting the luggae for us and um looking for u ppl but cant see u" muskaan replied in a normal voice now" well what do u expect me to talk like when u call urself n then dont speak up for almost a minute...where were u lost girl???" ridhima blushed, shoot, she thought she reads me even without looking at me....while muskaan continued "and i just spotted u dont worry we r walking towards u...u help armaan with the luggage poor guy having to get all of that alone, n ur bag is way too humungous" indignantly ridzi quipped "muski???can u stop supproting that jerk he's ..." ...."a wonderful guy im falling in love with" she heard armaan's cheeky voice from behind completeing her sentence not quite the way she was going to....while muskaan did not miss his line either and said still on the phone "oooohhhh i c....interesting....well um putting the call down...this has to be discussed in person i guess..." and with that she cut the call without letting ridhima correct her....so she swerevd around and almost yelled at him in an angry voice " do u ever get serious????what was that all about....muski thought u were talking for real....armaan this is not funny do u understand????" as his look changed from a grin to a quieter expression, she immediately felt guilty....she knew he was just teasing her...but somehow, she just lost her temper....she knew it wasnt cause of what he had said, but cause she was still feeling weird, she really had been so lost in his thoughts that she had not heard muskaan answer her phone for almost a minute....and then muskaan guessing she had been lost.....and then while she was still confused he had come up n said that stuff....n then muskaan teasing her about him.....she was just getting too bogged down by her own confusing thoughts about what she was feeling....and hence her unreasonble irritation at jokes she would normally laugh off....and her confused frustration had just found a vent in him...."um sorry" he muttered realizing something was not right with her, he had teased her all through the journey but though she would get mad at him and scornfully retort, this was the first reaction out of her which really was intense...and he did not want to extend this issue...."i was just joking...dint mean to...." " no its ok....um sorry....duno why i got mad over something that silly" she said and as he looked at her she tried to smile back to reassure him that it was nothing except a wrong moment....and then they both turned as they heard muskaan's chirpy voice...."ARYAN!!!" the moment she saw him ridhima ran towards him with the same excitement, that they had heard in muskaan's voice, and as rahul walked towards armaan, he smiled at him but armaan just turned back to the scene....only to find ridhima jump with joy and hug the stranger hard, and as he hugged her back, armaan felt a strong surge of emotions rise within his chest, he could not define at that moment what, why or how that was happening....but as he continued seeing them hug, his eyes narrowed with an effort as he could not keep the doubt from invading his mind.....was this the answer she had avoided mentioning?????

**********

~Part 7~


"Hmmm more serious than the usual cajoling this time, are we???" armaan almost choked on the beer he was sipping, as he was ripped out of his maze of thoughts by the sudden words, zooming around , he said with a tired yet puzzled sigh, "DAD???whats that supposed to" Chris interrupted "u know what its supposed to mean, but if u want me to put it in words, very well then, thats exactly the precision i will expect in your answer...." as he paused, armaan looked at him, still bemused but not completely unaware of what was likely to hit him next, as he heard his father continue, his doubt was confirmed...."who's the lady in question???" It was not the first time he had faced this question from his father....they had always been close friends, and their bond had only been strengthened further by his mother's sudden demise, and his father's parenting role in that period...but for this once armaan did not know what to say....was it even a lady in a question he wondered????and if yes, was it that particular lady in question.....how silly is that dude, he thought, of course its her....i mean....no no no... this girl....gosh armaan ur losing it...ok hang on.... the point is there's no lady in question here at all....but the lady we are talking about is her....WHAT????...ok lets sort this out... she is the girl dad is asking about but not the lady i am thinking of....oh but wait ...how can that be....dad is asking about the girl i am thinking of so they have to be the same right????but how can they be the same if she is not the lady in question????what the ...."so um not wrong, it is more than a thought worth dismissing....." he heard his father interrupt his chain of thoughts as chris settled on the couch besides the pool...."armaan sat down too, a bit absent mindedly.......and then recollecting his wits somehow, without any idea of what he was going to say he spoke up..."do u really want to know???..." and then after a pause, on a sudden thought he added "promise you wont be jealous???" chris looked at his son, and within that quick look he knew armaan had found an answer to escape the real issue, chris knew neither what this escape route was, nor the issue he wanted to escape....but he decided to play along bidding his time for the appropriate moment anyways and said "oh yeh whatever....there is no woman in the world who would chose you over your father....such are the charms of Sir Christopher Lawerence Benz" armaan chuckled....he knew he had his mother's heart, but instead of being the serene beautiful image like his mom....he had been the gallant enchanter, all of his charming persona was from his dad....aloud he said "well there was one....i mean, there was, is and will be...." pausing he said in a slow voice, which was delibearte yet wistful "mum....", chris looked over at him bowled over for a few seconds that followed, until armaan broke the silence continuing..."was just missing her dad", and he could say that looking straight into his father's eyes, because it wasnt untrue in the least, only not....well he thought thats enough for dad for now for he himself wasnt sure of what more there was to it exactly...while chris was figuring out, um sure that is the truth son....just not the complete truth....aloud he said "well she chose me first too...." to which armaan retorted "that was only until she had not laid her eyes on me....c'mon dad, admit it, the most beautiful, charming lady of the world would have chosen me over you at any given time!!!" as he grinned giving his father a cheesy challenging look, chris said "maybe" he paused, then looking armaan into the eye to not miss even a flicker of reaction he continued...."but i can assure you this apparently reaonably beautiful, charming lady....the lady in question here....not ur mum as we both know....will definitely take to my charms before yours....not every worthy woman makes the same blunder son......" now armaan was dumbfounded, fidgeting with his fingers he mumbled looking at his shoes "there is no lady in question dad....the question here is about a guy " "WHAAAT???" chris could not stop himself from that reaction to his son's words and their obvious implication, while he thought, completely tensed now, how and when could this have happened????armaan had always been.....while armaan realizing how his words had been misinterpreted said quickly to correct any misconeptions "i dont mean it like that dad....gosh how u let your mind run on such insane thoughts...." as chris sighed in relief, armaan chuckled again..."u really thought i....omg dad....ur hilarious...." and armaan fell off the couch onto the floor besides his father laughing....while chris smiled now, thinking what a foolish thought he had entertained even if for a second, and then he remembered what had caused it so he asked again "so then why is a guy on ur mind...who is it first of all...." , "aryan chadda.... i think...." he said in a quiet voice....then resting his head in his father's lap he said "can we skip this talk for now dad....it is not like i want to hide anything....but to be honest, i dont know exactly what it is u want to know n i need to tell.....anyways i dont think it is that considerable a topic of discussion" hearing the finality in armaan's voice chris knew it was a good idea to drop it ....for now he thought at least, because this 'not a considerable topic' as armaan had called it, had visibly been prying on his mind ever since their hug at the airport...considering the father son reunion had happened after quite a few months this time, chris had found armaan had spoken much less being quite engrossed in something which was not obvious....it is considerable son, thought chris, but il let u take ur time before u reveal it to me...n perhaps to yourself, cause something makes me believe u completely when u say ur not sure of what to tell me....aloud he said..." well alright then, come into the house ur grandmom wants u to join everyone for dinner....u know, a half english grandson, stydying at stanford....ur quite a star here son!!!" saying so chris winked at the exasperated look which had appeared on armaan's face hearing him say this, and they both got up to walk back in for dinner...."and yeh," continued chris, "i would not think u would maintain ur star status at quite the same level unless u chuck that beer can away from prying eyes....i know u are not much of a drinker, but the can is not likely to stand by my statement before ur mum's family"....armaan shrugged looking up towards what he assumed was heavens, and dumped the half full can into a bin close by, and the followed his dad inside the sliding doors....



*************


"AAAARRRRGGGGHHH...u jerk mr. underpants... get out of my kitchen if u want to even see dinner tonight" yelled ridz at him, at the same time trying to tend to her almost burnt finger by blowing air onto it rapidly, "yeh right frisco, as if u were even remotely concentrating on whats cooking in those pots, if only u could find spare time from whatever has been cooking in that pea sized brain of yours ever since u got home....say thanks to me for bringing u back to mother earth from whichever cloud 9 u were on...." aryan teased relentlessly with an evil grin... ridhima turning slightly red, retorted trying to defend herself " by burning my finger in the steaming coffee???" " well be glad it was just that, the way ur lost in ur wonderland all off that food would have burnt out...i think ur finger is a preferable victim anytime" he completed, ducking behind the kitchen table as she threw the rolling pin towards him "god frisco...i thought stanford might have atleast turned u into a remote resemblance of a lady, but not in the least, the poor guy u were dreaming of right now....tell me who it is quickly so i can warn him before he falls for ur deceptively innocent looks, you are lethal when ur trully urself" and he ducked yet again as he saw a plate flying towards him this time, catching it swiftly in the air meanwile, and chuckling at her....as she turned her back on him, in a disgruntled way, he knew she had avoided his question....they had been best friends since they were kids....muskaan, ridhima, anjali, and him, aryan....although muskaan had been a great sibling to grow up with, and anjali a perfect classmate and friend as they both decided to opt for medical studies....aryan had found his closest friend in ridhima, and the two of them had been inseperable, and were transparent to each other to the extent of reading the other's mind of thoughts which were yet to occur.....as he saw her get back to the pots on the stove, he walked towards her and sitting on the slab facing her he spoke again....."so whats cooking" she heard his unpoken last words 'in ur head' in his deliberate tone, n knew her supposedly well concealed restlessness had not escaped him even after months of not seeing her.....he never missed her latent and unspoken emotions...avoiding his gaze by walking towards the cabinet on the pretext of getting salt she said..."chicken biryani....did u suddenly get food blind, or lose your power to recognize ur favorite dish when it is being cooked before ur eyes???" he waited for her to come back, knowing she couldnt stay there forever to get salt, and as she walked back he said...."if ur done with that awful attempt at humor....or hiding facts....can i get the real answer???" she looked up to see him looking back at her intently, no smirk or grin, a genuine questioning look, and she knew there was no way to escape it....."aryan it is not...." she started only to be interrupted "ARYAN RIDHIMA...u both do ur reunion talks later or we will never get the biryani u promised us ridz....n aryan bhai...come here fast....u just have to see this...."with this muskaan dragged aryan away, much to ridhima's relief, but not a long lived one, as aryan tuned back giving her a look which she read clearly to say 'thats not the end of our conversation'....but putting it off her head for now she got back to the cooking, both in the pots and inside her head as aryan had accurately said....she still could not understand why she was so uneasy....and so she replayed the events of the last 24hours in her head yet again, she had done so enough times already to have lost count, her quest for a satisfactory answer was all but in vain....thats what aryan, she thought, its not that i dont want to answer u....i just dont know what it is u want to hear n i have to say....she shut her eyes momentarily, wary of the pace at which her mind was racing, only to jerk them open....for that one moment she had smelt his cologne again she was sure....cautiously she turned to look all about her making sure, he wasnt there...then standing back straight up she gave a nervous giggle and said "silly ridzi, how could he be here....girl...ur losing it"....with that she went back to the biryani trying to block out all ambiguous thoughts.....


*************


as he threw his jeans and shirt from the journey into the laundry basket, he heard a small yet audible sound of something metallic fall to the ground....he turned around scanning the floor for what could have resulted in the sound, just as he was going to give up and turn around his eyes stopped at a small shining silver speck....he bent and retreived it and brought it close for inspection, at first he couldnt understand for the life of him what it was, but then it struck him, like a bolt of lightening, and he gave it a closer look narrowing his eyes, undoubtedly it was a broken tiny tinklet from her dangler....as he wondered how that happened to have reached here, he remembered how she had rested her head on his shoulder while sleeping "oh i see, thats how....it must have jerked off the dangler and got stuck to my shirt at that time..." as he gazed at the tiny silver piece, it unknowingly brought a smile to his face and he whispered "i wonder if you are thinking of me too ms. short tempered know it all.....but i have to admit....there is something about u ...which i inevitably seem to miss just so...." and shaking his head slowly as he muttered those last words as if trying to contradict his own obvious thoughts, he wondered why he was feeling so, and then why was he denying the feeling......dropping to the bed, he slowly shut his eyes, trying to shut his mind and heart, as they both all of a sudden yearned to feel her resting her head on his shoulder.....as he smiled with closed eyes, running like a movie the events of the journey, his smile widened until he reached the rear end....their parting scene at the airport......


***************

~Part 8~


"What was that look on his face when we bid adieu???" she asked out aloud the question that had been so heavily on her mind that it had not even let her get involved in the family reunion after several months, and for such a special occasion....standing by herself in the balcony of her room now she gave up on trying to check her dwindling concentration in her own family affairs....all through dinner and post dinner chats she had hardly participated in all that had been discussed amongst her parents, cousins, n other family members, and muskaan n aryan...she had not however been unaware of aryan's constant observation of her lost daze, but she figured she would handle it when it came along, she had to tell him anyways, there was nothing she never told him, the thing was she needed to sort out things in her head first so she knew what to tell him....the journey had been fun, she admitted smiling with reluctance, he had teased her endlessly but she had enjoyed every bit of it without a speck of doubt she knew now, ....n what about those 2 close encounters she wondered blushing, looking back in retrospection.....what was that effect he had on her....it was so intoxicating that she semed to lose sense...he was not the first guy who used cologne n came close ....what???ok silly reason, it obviously has nothing to do with the cologne ridzi....even other than aryan, she had a whole bunch of really close guy friends in her life.....people she had danced within inches of distance, people who hugged her, or for whatever reasons had shared close moments with her as friends...n he too was a friend...perhaps even less, then why did his casual touch make her feel differently....why could she not control her reactions to his touch, his feel, the fragrance she would now associate with him forever, his...whole persona....well thats why they all fall for him i guess, she thought....thats what he is a master at, enchanting girls, who will never be anything in is life except another crazy female fan, he can flaunt each one the way he was all through the conversations we had.....with a streak of jealousy creeping in which she had not even felt when he had actually mentioned them, she argued in her mind like a stubborn kid trying to fight a lost battle....yes thats what he just chrms people....she was not being blind to logic, but then again, had she lost senses while with him??? why had she voluntarily let him keep his grip around her, rather enjoying it...why had she felt so spellbound looking into his hazel eyes each time, why did she have to fight the urge of staying close n not breaking the proximity each time they had been close....wel there was an attraction, she concluded, but it could not be allowed to proliferate and take over her the way it was right now.....cause he obviously did not feel the same way...with a grudging shudder she remebered how all of a sudden he had become cold to her when they said goodbye....he had been so warm n friendly all the time....was that all just a part of his charming pretense which he put up before each girl????it hurt her to admit that it might be just that, but then she thought, why would he bother himself with all that for her, she was not one of his usual damsels.....he had seemed so genuine.....but that cold shoulder just before the parting, pretending to be busy on phone getting mushy with some clinging chick of his she thought disgusted....what could have caused it???could he not have let it go with a normal bye, to match their interaction on the plane????what pinched her most was the fact that this sudden attitude had been directed at her alone...he had been the same warm armaan with muski....oh well she thought he had not spared much warmth to aryan either but that was cause they did not even know each other.....something just provoked that sudden pricey act out of him, and she couldnt think what....with a start she remembered how she had yelled at him post muskaan's call just before aryan appeared on the scene....but as she recalled it all, she decided he had seemed to have taken that fine too accepting her apology.....or so she had felt at that moment....well maybe he did not take it fine ridzi, she thought....he is a superstar, why should he take that yelling n tantrum from a geek like you second time in less than 2 weeks....slowly she slipped to the floor leaning her back against the wall n sat down....still perplexed, but she knew one thing now....without speaking she worded it in her head....she was attracted to him....n missed him....in just the past 24 hours he had her under a spell....but she had to get out of it, n better now since they were in no way meeting for the next 3 weeks till she was in india even if she could not escape his presence in stanford....yes she decided with a strengthening resolve, i have to get out of this fantasy infatuation for something which will never be.... there was nothing plausible in a single sided attraction...a small voice quipped up in her head...there can never be a single sided attraction its a mutual force...he must feel it too....nah... he doesnt or he would be attracted to 90% of the stanford girls....all that balancing out of forces is limited to the physics in the labs she thought sighing, and closing her eyes, tired from the day, its events n her endless puzzling non acceptable thoughts n emotions....

************


he frowned hard, as a whole gush of loud voices entered his ears all at once, opening his eyes reluctantly cursing whoever it was, he saw the whole gang of his girl cousins and maybe their friends standing over him giggling....as his frown deepened, he realized with a start he was just in his boxers n vest, pulling the satin sheet over himself completely except his face he sat up instantly looking at all the intruders, embarrased, puzzled and then quite irritated...while one of them, said " its ok bhai....if u have it u should flaunt it...." and she winked at him in a naughty way.....to which armaan reacted with almost a violent jerk, looking up at her....never in his life had he been embarrased to, as she had said, flaunt his well built body, but at this moment he wished the he could disapparate....."that will be enough minz....take ur gang out of the room, i need to catch a word with armaan bhai...." hearing a new voice, armaan looked towards the door to see atul, the groom and his mother's nephew, and then looking back at the cheeky girl he remembered she was his younger sister, minnie....o boy, he thought....i pity the poor bride, this sister in law will be one mischief maker for her to handle i can foresee....unless of course she has had experience with similar spoilt siblings....as the girls moved outwards grumbling, one of them turned around to give him a flying kiss, which now completely turned him red, while atul came inside grinning at the scene....then getting sober he said "i apologize about that they are all brats....but they have been so excited, about the wedding, and about u and uncle joining us this time....bua always did come for the functions, but we just have never seen enough of u n uncle....n well.....its not just them armaan" said atul looking up staright into his half indian cousin's eyes..."u both are really special to me, since bua was my favorite aunt....u know anjali, the girl i am going to marry, and i were friends in high school too, we only just committed much later....but bua had teased me about her for many years before our confession to each other....i wish she had been here to see this wedding...." as he saw armaan look away he paused his own eyes moistening and then said "it means a lot for me to have her family here...." at which armaan looked back smiling deeply, and hugged atul, who hugged him back....as they parted atul quipped "u know i have to agree with minnie for once....u do have a body to flaunt man....gyming all the time???!!!!" armaan chuckled and said "yeh that, and basketball....not the usually loved and worhipped indian sport cricket though....mum n dad tried putting me to that, but i guess american schooling altered my ideas of what i prefer"... " awww that sucks dude" said atul," cause just that one addition to ur list of activities, with looks like that n u have all the indian maidens u find attractive running after u" armaan's thoughts immediately drifted back to the only indian girl who had occupied his thoughts lately, and he spoke spontaneously, without meaning to "not all perhaps....", while atul looked up with a raised eyebrow and a questioning look...armaan came back and put up his defense guard up almost as soon and said "so what did u want to talk to me about???" atul remembered what he come for and replied forgetting the controversial comment armaan had just made, "oh yeh...good u remind me...well as u can see we have a whole bunch of girl cousins, but hardly any grown up boys other than me and u...and a few more distant cousins, n some of my friends....but u really are the closest male cousin of the groom...me" he said smiling, dreaming about anji, while armaan just chuckled seeing him like that bringing his thoughts back to the room by snapping his fingers before him, as he resumed clearing his throat "so u have to go to anjali's place with what we call the shagun....the parents usually take it, but i insisted that uncle should go for this...as my ummmm....u know i mean i would have wanted bua n uncle to go.....would u..." armaan interrupted "yup il accompany dad dont worry....n reg will join us too if u dont mind????" ,"oh no let him stay back with me...i need some help here too cant survive in an all woman house please....n we seem to be getting along well....he's a fun guy", armaan nodded n continued as an after thought "but u think u could let someone else join us, since we are both not quite 'INDIAN TRADITION LITERATE' people u know" to which atul said, after scratching his head in thought for a few moments..."i guess minnie would be the right person....she knows more traditions than possibly exist anyways..." armaan looked up a bit apprehensively, and atul seeing his look smiled and said "shes a brat i know, and can be awfully naughty....but bua used to narrate quite a lot of ur mischiefs....if u have not lost the touch, how about some competition???!!!!" armaan laughed, hearing how his mum had jeopardized his reputation everywhere....then looking at atul he nodded and said "alright....lets have this settled as to who's boss here before the wedding,....cause after this we have to play as comrades right???i mean mum used to mention a lot of those fun games between the bride's and the groom's side....guess if we both are on one team, nobody can beat us!!!this is going to be fun..." breaking his victory dreams atul snapped "well fun yes, but dont be so sure of winning easy....not until u meet anji's younger sister n her two best friends...they can be quite a team trust me" as armaan looked up with a confident dont worry smile atul resumed "they interviewed me for 6 hours....that too online cause they were not here.... before i could formally propose anji"....armaan grinned and said "well champ...its our turn now....leme go check out the enemies today with minnie, and also their base camp....then leave it to us....what did u call ur fiance again...anji????" as atul nodded, armaan could not remember where he had heard that name....it sounded so familiar, yet not quite....was this his month of unravelling familiar puzzling personalities he wondered, thinking about her again.....


***********


as he stepped out of the car, minnie looking like a angel in her turquoise silver sharara linked her arm into his and said "till they come to know we're cousins, i dont mind everyone thinking i hooked up with the hottest hunk in town!!!" armaan shook his head laughing she had been her upto her chirpy mischief all through the ride, and his initial perception of her had faded into a new one, he decided he like her company, they did make a good team as he had anticipated....she was pretty and witty...beauty with brains - a rare combination he thought, then thinking of ridhima yet again he wondered, or was it a common trait in indian girls....his mum had been one too....as she tugged onto his arm, he smiled at her and said "thanks for the compliment gorgeous.....il be glad to have u around, not quite sure of this indian outfit um wearing who knows when i will need help again, then who better to fix it than u!!!" he winked as she giggled at him, fixing the stole in his neck so it would stay put longer....and with that they followed chris, who was deeply pleased to have seen the bond armaan was building with his cousins...just as his mum would have wanted him to....as they were welcomed into the house by a warm lady, who introduced her self as anji's mom to chris, armaan moved forward n bent to touch her feet, the lady, padma she introduced herself as, was warmly taken aback....atul had called to let her know who was coming with the shagun, and she had not expected him to know the customs being half english....he smiled back at her and said..."i am armaan....dont know what u prefer being called, but dont be too impressed thats the only thing i know from the endless list of indian customs which mum taught me as a kid!!!" smiling back him she blessed him with a happy long life and said "call me PM it will do....." seeing his eyebrows raised in a question she resumed "Padma mom!!" armaan smiled at her showing his pleasure at her gesture, while minnie not losing focus from their aim of getting to know their supposed enemies well, quipped from behind..."aunty where's bhabhi????bhai mentioned she will introduce us to her sister n their gang" to which padma said "oh anji is in her room getting ready, n the rest of them are scattered and running errands...but go meet up with anji she will introduce u to all"...with that armaan and minnie strode towards the stairs, while chris stayed back as shashank had appeared to join padma and him, and they walked in another direction....as they climbed the step, they drew some attention, armaan was not an obviously indian looking boy, and this was his first appearence in this house, all the girls, as minnie had anticipated, were whispering about who it was with her....while she giggled and whispered in his ears..."see what i meant" to which armaan said "yeh i know, isnt the first time girls are fluttering in my presence gorgeous...they always do!!!" minnie looked at him with a look of hurt pride and said "well dont be so sure, they would not have noticed u so had i not been accompanying u....minnie has that effect on people too!!!" to which he merely chuckled and said "no offense intended gorgeous...um sure u do!!!!!!" as they almost reached the door of the bedroom, a girl ran towards minnie and said "hey minz finally ur here come on fast n see bhabhi's dress...." with that minnie gave armaan a quick look to excuse herself and ran inside.....while armaan at the threshold of an obvious girl's domain now wondered which direction to proceed in, just then he heard his cell ringing....and he turned his back to the door, leaning against the edge talked to reg....until......


**********


" oh god muskaan, i told to u get the tika from mum dint i....ok chuck it now, il go bring it, u do di's hair meanwile".....as she rushed out of the bedroom, closing in on the door, she felt it again....oh no she thought, please not that cologne again, ridzi come on girl this is no time or occasion to lose ur head....but as she neared the door, and finally was crossing it, the fragrance was too strong for her, and she shut her eyes momentarily, then opening them again, hearing muskaan's loud chirpy laugh, she she shook her head hard and moved hastily out of the door, only to feel a tug at her neck....n she realized her long shimmery coffee brown n gold dupatta had got stuck in....she turned around to see what...in the wrist watch of a guy standing with his back, talking on the phone oblivious of this fact...."standing and chatting on the cell outside the girls dress room...wow what an idea...."she muttered...n who was this????she had not seen any guy wear the shade she was wearing in the house so far, brown n gold, with a black stole... n somehow....he looked familiar from the back????....anyways she thought and moving closer she tapped him on his shoulder to get her dupatta released, but even before he turned she knew that cologne....she knew why he seemed familiar....."hang on reg" he said turning around and then, they both stared at each other, unbelievably.....


************


here goes part8 folks....extraaaaa looonnnggg coz so many of u complained abt the last one, although it was the same length as always guess due to justa couple of scenes in talk it appeared short....enjoy reading this one!!!



Edited by spln - 30 June 2008 at 1:00pm

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spln

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spln

Joined: 06 December 2007

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Posted: 05 June 2008 at 2:24pm | IP Logged
~Part 9~

The world of physics claims that in terms of relativity, time can stop if u move with the speed of light.....weird timing for implementing physics, thought ridhima, but this assumption had never made more sense to her than the current moment....it seemed to have come true as they stared at each other frozen in time, while their minds raced at the speed of light....baffled and still trying to let the fact sink in, it turned few moments into an eternity of stillness just for the two of them, until they were interrupted....a cracking sound from armaan's cell brought them both back, as they heard rahul's voice..."ammy ???dude u still alive???? did a tornado hit u????" armaan put the phone back to his ear, slightly blushing at how accurate reggie's statement was....actually he thought, tornado was a definite understatement to describe what had hit him as he spoke into the phone without breaking his gaze on her, his voice a bit unsteady "y-yeh, yeh um here reg...." and before he could speak anymore he felt a a tug on his wrist, and as he glanced downwards he saw the dupatta stuck into the pin....and she was trying to get it free, as he felt her hand brush against his wrist, he smiled coming out of his trance, his dimples deepening....so he was not imagining, she was there for real.....then seeing her frown in concentration he thought, yeh it was her all right, frowning as usual.....and he chuckled, making her look up at him still frowning....while he spoke into the phone "call u back later reg!" cutting the call, he maintained his intense gaze on her, observing her top to bottom....while she conscious of his inspection, had gotten back to working out the dupatta end which was still stuck, not able to bring herself to meet his gaze....there had been no dearth of beauties in his life, but he had never, after his mother, seen such regal aura in simplistic beauty, the sharp features of her face highlighted, to give her a soft entrancing charm....the coffee gold combination matched her fair skin, with a slight natural shade of asian tan.....it made her look breathtaking, he felt like the combination had been nothing more than lifeless colors to him until he saw them adorning her....and then regaining his wits, swiftly he helped her remove her dupatta, feeling her cringe slightly and pull her hand back as his touched hers....she continued her effort of not looking him in the eye, while trying to adjust the pleat of her dupatta so it would fall back in folds as before, he heard her muttering in an undertone, catching only two words 'not real'.....he grinned now, realizing she still thought it wasnt him she was facing.....then he looked around him, before lifting her face with a light upward urging push under her chin, as she met his intent hazel eyes, she felt the spell bind her stronger than ever, it was not his usual look she thought while trying mentally to rid her nerves from it, all in vain, still unsure if she should believe her eyes.....until she heard his voice "so u really are stalking me huh????" she saw him grin, clearly flirting....but the battle of emotions within her was too strong for her to be offended spontaneously as she normally would have....her mind was preoccupied with an ongoing debate to determine her exact emotion ....she would have loved to claim her mind was in peace, and that his presence had initiated no issues, no affect at all.....but even her partially numbed senses protested, much against her rightful thinking, that she was feeling a strong ripple of emotions in the calm waters of her mind....n worse still, they were all happy emotions....to n extent she couldnt handle too long now.....trying to shove this tug-o-war between desired indifference n existing excitement, she repeated what he had just said in her mind...stalking him...."WHAT???" she spoke out finally understanding what she had been accused of, in a voice which held too many emotions in it all at once.....while he just shrugged, smiling inwardly, finally she had spoken he thought....she continued not exactly pacified by his shrug "u are insane....now i know i had no misconceptions u really are insane.....ur standing in my house, at the threshold of my bedroom....n I AM THE STALKER HERE??????? is there a redefined meaning of that word in english i am unaware of????perhaps a special dictionary has been luxuriated for ur highness Jr. Sir Benz????"....she rattled all of that in a single breath before she could get tongue tied again, unsure of what pausing between sentences while looking into those hazel eyes could lead to.....it was armaan's turn...smile faded in to a look of uncertainity...."ur bedroom???" he asked his surprise evident in his tone, to which she nodded her head more vigorously than was necessary as if to emphasize her point, n then realizing that perhaps did not answer his question quite the way he expected she said, her voice more confident now, realizing she had finally managed to get him for a change instead of the usual other way "yes my bedroom.....so i guess its my turn to ask what brings u to my humble abode since ur highness is possibly not capable of stalking mere commoners like me i assume.." she said the last part with intended sarcasm, to avenge herself of his alleged stalking blame....as he continued giving her a puzzled look, trying to figure out the missing link here, they both were interrupted by a shriek, n before he knew what hit him, second time in the last few minutes, muskaan was all over him, hugging him hard, n talking non stop at the same time "gosh armaan what the heck are u doing here....of all the places in the world, i thought the airport was coincidence enough but no, we meet again...." letting him go much to his relief, since he felt short of breath by then, she looked angrily at ridhima n said "u invited him n did not even tell me???" then suddenly she smiled "oh u were trying to surprise me....where's "she looked around then back at armaan and said "where's reg????" as she finally paused they both spoke at once "she invited me???"...."i invited him????" and giving each other a glare, as if accusing the other of stealing words out their mouths, they spoke together again "r u crazy????" as they looked at each other again, this time with less of a glare n more of an exasperated look over the second coincidently same sentence, muskaan said "timeout guys....oki u go first armaan" she said, much to ridhima's displeasure....why did she always support this jerk....armaan meanwile smirked at ridhima, and smiling at muskaan said "well um here with dad n minnie to give anji's shagun...and she for obvious reasons like all girls is stalking me again" armaan completed the last part of his sentence giving ridhima a challenging teaser, while she was fuming with anger and about to retort, they heard a voice from behind..."ridzi beta....is ur sister ready yet or not...." the three of them turned around recognising padma's voice, but as ridhima answered " no mum i was coming to u for the tikka because..." she was interrupted by a loud booming "WHAT" from all three people around her, each for their own reasons,,,armaan quipped before the other two "MUM????" which was completely ignored by muskaan who said "ridzi u still havent got the tikka u hopeless girl, standing here chatting with armaan, dont deserve to be the sister of the bride..." padma nodded in agreement and said "ur right muskaan beta, this girl.....been lost god knows where ever she got back home yesterday....u come with me n get the tikka or anji wont be ready until the wedding next week..." as muskaan n padma left, a baffled armaan, and a slightly embarresed n guilty ridhima behind the two of them stood in silence for a few moments....then breaking the awkward silence both spoke at once yet again "so u..." n both stopped, this third time as they finally looked at each other straight in the eye, n both couldnt help laughing....."alright peace...." said armaan finally and as ridhima too stopped laughing, they both looked at each other again more solemn now, wondering why in the world they had just had that mindless conversation when there was so much more relevant to talk about between the two of them....well not yet, they both thought, not quite yet.....ridhima spoke this time "so u got the shagun for di???how do u know jeej???" to which armaan replied "atul is my mum's nephew....remmeber i said i was attneding a family wedding.....well here i am..." he said bowing slightly "my warmest regards to the beautiful sister of the bride" as he got back to standing straight, his keen eyes did not miss the additional shade of red a clear consequence of his compliment rising in her cheeks to the existing light coat of blush as she said "oh ur jeej n minnie's cousin....what a coincidence" he smiled, n not wanting to let his complement be conveniently ignored he said "coincidence indeed, meant to be so i guess....not the only one though..." as she looked up at him with slightly arched eyebrows he continued "when the lady matches her knight in the shades they wear, it appears nothing short of appropriate for them to walk in the same stride!!!shall we????" he said offering her his arched elbow...n as she rather hesitantly locked her arm into his, he made his grip firm...n indicated with the free hand for her to lead the way.....as they walked down the stairs, ridhima was conscious of the heads their were turning, the attention drwan to them for more than a single obvious reason, but for once she did not care....her head n heart stood by her as she whispered to him "never thought id live to see the day the rockstar n basketballer would walk in this indian avtaar...." as he gave a slight smile looking at her she continued without looking back "but u carry that just as well as the former two.....looking good" his smile widened hearing the words he had not heard for the first time, but he welcomed them right then like he had never before.....


*************


In conversation with shashank, he put, consciously enough but not quite sure why, a teeny weeny bit extra effort to impress him, meanwile not letting ridhima out of his sight by maintaining a side look upon her at all times....she was now with anji .....as someone called shashank armaan rejoiced within and walked towards her, the moment shashank excused himself.....as he closed on the distance he heard her laugh over something anji said, both sisters were so different yet wonderful in their own unique ways....anji was perfect for atul he thought, smart outgoing and n very warm....she had already started treating him like family and he could see why despite the differences she n atul would gell well....they both seemed ready to adjust to the other's needs....n then there was ridhima.... he wondered what it was about her, that warmed his heart the moment he set his eyes on her.....for the past two hours he had come up with every possible excuse in he world, to approach her or be close to where ever she went trying his best to not be noticed....something about her presence he craved for, n just could not seem to get enough....now as her laughter filled his ears, he smiled inevitably, then finally reaching the spot he said "anji...there's something i have for u....." as anjali looked up in anticipation, he said looking from anjali to ridhima, and back to anjali.."well its something priceless for u, what do i get to hand it over????" ridhima did not like the tone and manner of his statement, and knew from the 24 hours she had spent with him less than 24 hours ago, that he was upto something...and she couldnt think of anything good up his sleeve, not for her atleast.....so she braced herself to face something that was not likely to be agreeable....while anjali said "what is it that u want armaan????i prefer hearing it from u straight, instead of all the guess work.....if whatever u have is priceless for me, u must expect a similar return....how do i make up????" armaan grinned, realizing his game was half won, he had guessed anjali would support him, they were so prfectly getting along from the moment they were introduced....and he said "u know anji , atul is a lucky guy....ur not just simply beautiful, but smart up in the head too, which is more than what i can say about other people here...." as he received a weary look from ridhima, who was getting accustomed to being his target no matter what the conversation, he continued with a tilted smile...."i want to visit the taj mahal..." huh????ridhima could not understand where this conversation was headed....now how did he come up with this all of a sudden....taj mahal?????he couldnt care less about architectural wonders, the kind of person he is....what is he getting at....enjoying her apparent confusion he knew she had not yet zeroed in on his master strike, while anjali said "and???" he looked back at her and said "and well before i tell u about that ahead, here u go....atul wanted me to give this to u...." and he handed her a small gift wrapped box.....as she took it from him, he urged her to go ahead n open it, knowing that after seeing it, in her boundless happiness she would deny him no demands....n his was not even unreasonable...as she opened it, she fournd in the box a a heart locket, which opened up n had little pictures of her n atul.....she almost cried with happiness....ridhima pulled anji into a hug....she was really happy for her sister, jeej seemed to be everything she had claimed him to be, even more so.....n armaan just smiled at their cute sisterly moment...then remembering his point he coughed a bit to get back their attention....as they broke apart from the hug, ridhima felt her muscles stiffen ever so slightly, here we go she thought as he spoke up "so taj mahal....its just that...well i really want to see the place....n there is no point going alone....atul or u cant come....dad....ummm" he paused, and for a flickering second ridhima thought she saw a wistful look on his face, but only a fleeting look, if it had been there in the first place "dad well wants to spend time with the family.....minnie cant take a break from her internship for a couple of days now, since shes taking days off next week for thw wedding....so i just cant see how to make the trip happen unless....he glanced at anji with soulful eyes...u have someone in mind who could join me....ridhima finally understood what was going to follow, n her mind started racing fast, to find a way out of this mesh he was trapping her in, but anji had not been any slower at figuring out armaan's indication either....on an instinct she quipped up "how about ridzi???" oh no thought ridhima, just what i neede from u di.... armaan gave a triumphant smile, as he looked up and winked at her, she shook her head in dread....gosh!!! this guy, why was he doing this....why me????but as she continued looking, his expression changed, to a sudden colder one n before she could analyse why she heard the familiar voice "did i hear sightseeing????..." armaan looked at aryan definitely not pleased, n his eyes narrowed as he rested his arm around ridhima's shoulder....while ridhima looking at him as if he were a god sent angel said "yup armaan wants me to take him to agra...taj mahal n all u know....aryan why dont u join us u know the place better than any of us...." looking back at armaan with an intended smile she said "infact maybe i should stay back with di, n help mum at home while u go with armaan and..." but aryan interrupted "no way frisco....we docs have a harder life than u geeks can imagine....how do u think il get any more days off????" hearing his words ridhima's face fell....while, as aryan had expected, armaan's smile widened....he was sure now....it was armaan....thought aryan grinning at armaan who looked back a bit astonished but receiving what seemed to be a warm understanding smile, he just nodded his head in thanks wondering what to make of this guy called aryan.....ridhima meanwile appeared to be deep in thought too........then she spoke again..."but just us???wont it be..." armaan cut her off "oh no i was assuming ud realize um couting muskaan and reg in on the plan...." he smiled mischivously, revealing his trump card, knowing how she had absolutely not seen this coming, so convinced she was of him scheming against....hearing this she looked at him, a bit surprised.....but seeing his genuine smile, she returned it, thinking with a stab of guilt and...well a bit of regret...u really thought he was trying to get a chnace to spend time with u alone....actually ridzi admit it, much as u showed denial, u really were hoping for it to have been so....n then mentally chidding herself she thought...no ridhima gupta, plz...not him....fall for anybody but him.....he is not ur guy....hes from a league above u in every way....just forget it.....with that she shut out her battling thoughts again, while still smiling......


**************


as she put some jalebi n rabri onto her plate she turned around and just saved her self from colliding with him, but not quite since the rabri marked both their dresses....she frowned, and looking up said "armaaaan....what were u doing standing on my back like that????" to which he responded with a sigh "was waiting for u do get done with loading ur plate so i can get some leftover desert too..." she gave him a murderous yet helpless look, and said "did u have to climb on my back for that????now see the mess u made" with that she was about to leave, then turning around she said, anyways whats done is done, come along, il get u some thing to clean up ur sherwani too....pity u ruined that amazing piece" he followed her only too happy to oblidge, and smiled quietly at her indirect compliment number 2...." as they walked out of the room together, amongst the many pairs of eyes that followed the stanford couple in brown n gold, some were more than just keen onlookers.....chris knew he had found the lady in question from the previous night, while aryan thought with a genuine smile and a look of certinity "that is the victim u plan to butcher frisco....well if hes dying at ur hands....guess hes a lucky man..."....while minnie mused "hmmmmm interesting.....this wedding will be more fun than i had anticipated i guess...." n she rubbed her hands in glee!!!!!

***************

As she handed him some wet tissues, she asked "so i was wondering, why this sudden love for taj mahal????i mean getting reg n muskaan to meet up doesnt need a road trip to agra...." he looked up at her with an expression she could not read, then busying himself with wiping off the rabri from his kurta he mumbled "ummmm just curious to see the place...symbol of love and....." his voice trailed off as he remembered his dad's narration a few years back.....he was knocked back from his thoughts as he heard her say "armaan???? r u ok????" he saw the concern in her eyes, n realized his expressions must have given away his emotions.....he looked away, gazing into the thin air, n then like never before something willed him to let it out before her.....he knew if there was ever someone he could speak this out to without having to explain or wondering if he would be understood, it was her.....instinctively he said "dad proposed mum there....just wana see the spot where it all began for them...."

****************

~Part10~


She stared at the moon, in those early hours of the morning when it was still quite dark....not quite looking at it, since her mind was engrossed elsewhere.....she had tried going to bed, after the whole shagun evening had come to an end......but as she lay tossing in her bed, she decided to clear her thoughts in the fresh air and came down to her favorite refuge in the house, her childhood tree swing.....now as she swayed lightly, she felt the chill in the air, but did not seem to mind it, infact it was helping her think with more clarity n focus....she smiled softly, remembering how innocent he had been talking in a daze...."dad had been waiting for the right moment to pop the question, n somehow as they had stood gazing at the taj and its reflection in the still water of the facing pond, dad thought the moment had come....mum was so funny....while dad was proposing on his bent knee waiting for her to reply, this postcard seller came asking them to buy some....silly kid.... and she turned to buy some from him.....while dad waited for her reply nervously in the same position cursing that kid for the interruption!!!" she had laughed imagining the scene as he continued grinning himself "as she turned around she realized the scene they had created seeing father holding the ring up to her....n she quickly tugged onto his shirt urging him to get back from his proposing on the knee posture, embarrased by the attention they were drawing from the people passing by....but dad was adamant and did not get up till she said a yes!!! and as she accepted the ring a side walk photographer clicked their instant picture in that pose with the taj in the background....we have a life size poster of that picture in the master bedroom...u just have to see it ridz....its perfect" she chuckled remembering the boyish excitement on his face as he had narrated the event which she was sure was not something he talked about everyday....why had he chosen her then to share this story so special in his life????it was just the time....the wedding like atmosphere, must have had him revisit old memories n stories n she just happened to be with him in that nostalgic moment so he had talked, she told herself....whatever the reason, the fact that he had shared with her a thought so dear to him, made her feel a warm happiness deep within.....she had never imagined this facet of him, leave alone the idea of witnessing it, the caring, family oriented and deeply emotional loving armaan......and he talked with such sheer happiness that it had almost seeped into her, she had felt his happiness like her own....though it had nothing to do with her....she did not even know him well enough, leave alone his parents....in fact she thought, i only barely made aquaintance with sir benz, and have not even seen his mom yet....she made a mental note to ask him about her and why she had not made it to her nephew's wedding....she suddenly remembered his reaction on the plane when he had seen the mother and the child....he must have been missing her...."mumma's boy", she whispered to herself, smiling.....yeh she had to ask him about this extraordinary lady he was in such complete awe of....perhaps during their drive to agra....the drive she thought, and it just deepened her smile....she could not remember when she had last been so excited about a long drive in the notorious blinding delhi smog, traffic jams, and that not quite fun to drive on delhi-agra national highway....but with him on the drivers wheel, she could not think of a better way she wanted to spend her time.....slowly and steadily, she realized, the attraction was growing on her....she was past the stage where she could simply shrug it off.....getting solemn she wondered why she was not taking control of the situation before it was too late and she fell for him hopelessly, only to be heartbroken....she wanted to tell herself to see reason n check her growing emotions, but as images of him flashed through her head, even the grave gamble she was making, seemed worth it...if it was leading her to doom, the last thing she was succeeding at was stopping it from happening.....


************

he lay on his back on the dew covered grass in the lawn staring at the moon, willing it to relinquish its place in the sky to the mighty sun soon.....there were still over a couple of hours to go before it was time for dawn....n he knew there was a long drive to look forward to tomorrow, and he should catch some rest before that....but much as he tried he had been unable to sleep a wink, ultimately he had decided to come out n get some fresh air....anyways there had been way too much chaos in there, the excitement of the wedding at an all time high...the spirit of the occasion had engulfed the whole house and all its occupants, living n non lining...

"beautiful," he thought now, staring at the moon, not quite looking at it though....the remark was not for the charmer of the night sky, but for the face which smiled in the moon....he just lay there staring at it, his smile widening as he saw her notice him staring at her, blush slightly, and then give him a questioning frown as if asking what was wrong now that made him stare so?????he grinned as he saw her frown deepen n without moving, lying down looking upwards he blew her a kiss, as she blushed crimson red now, he smiled and then pointing from her to himself he said "my crazy cleopatra...." as she lowered her eyes a shy yet coy smile prying upon her lips in response to his comment, he closed his eyes to save that image in his head, when he opened them again rather reluctantly, she was there no more, just the bright shining moon and armaan sighed, scratching his head he sat up and declared to himself, and the nature around him "she is the one i have been waiting for all my life.....ain't she????" as if in response, a sudden gush of breeze blew through his hair n face causing him to close his eyes, and he saw her face again smiling and nodding in affirmation....he opened his eyes almost with a jerk this time, n looking up towards the sky he said, "wow! that was a quick answer dude!!!alright then, between u n me, we know its her....r u going to continue being my partner in crime and show me the way to make her see the same?????" and he winked at whoever he was trying to talk to, the moon, the stars, or the great god himself.....sealing the deal!!!...somehow, that confession, or realization...or whatever it was he thought, put his restless mind at ease, and lying in the grass in the same posture, his back on the grass facing the sky, he was finally cradled into a slumber by his surroundings......


*************

as she handed him a small backpack, he said without looking at her adjusting the other stuff in the boot, "keep that small one with u, there isnt much space in here, gime the big one" she looked at him impatiently n said , "armaaaan???look up before u order me about stuff....thats the only luggage i have...can u fit it in there????" that indeed make him look up..."just that????" he was genuinely surprised as she nodded her head n handed it to him again....of the numerous girlfriends he had gone out with, he had seen none with luggage less than a month's worth if they were going out for a couple of days....n here was this girl....the backpack was smaller than his own....but why was he surprised he thought, hadnt she proved to be a contradiction to all his perceptions about those typical girls so far???? as she snapped her fingers to bring him back he said overcoming his thoughts quickly "listen ridzi" then signalling her to come closer as if wanting to tell her a secret he continued "u look scary enough naturally....dont say u plan to stay without taking a bath or change of clothes for the next couple of days....bad idea ridz i dont think...." moving back disgruntled she interrupted "later armaan....u have enough time in the car to rattle off that endless list of the imperfections of ridhima gupta...can u fit in the bag for now???if we delay anymore we are sure to get stuck in the office hour traffic...." with that she walked off, leaving him scratching his head...fitting her bag he mumbled "the endless list of the imperfections i have fallen head over heels for sweetheart...."....

As they sat in the car, rahul n muskaan in the rear seats, armaan's gaze fell on rahul while adjusting his rearview, and he winked at him, wishing him luck without speaking...i am so happy for u reg he thought....muski is just perfect for u.....armaan had expected rahul to put up an argument when he had proposed the agra trip, but had been pleasantly surprised to find him agree readily....it had lead him to conclude that the flight together, just the 2 of them had worked much the way he had wanted it to n now rahul had shed off his defensive guard with muskaan n was being a natural friend...for now that is he mused, of course friendship is not where things end for u both....n then glancing at ridhima as she hugged anji and atul goodbye, he smiled thinking neither for us.....and as he stared at her, he heard a familiar voice close to his ear saying "hey" he turned around to find aryan grinning.....he still had not figured this guy's character out.....before he could think more aryan said "shes my best friend armaan....n the best thing to happen in ur life i can assure u....i sacrificed this trip for her sake dude.....if u feel for her the same way as i know she does for u even though she wont admit it, then u better return with the news of a confession n commitment from her...." armaan gaped at hearing those words, then slowly his shock gave way to a hearty smile n he said...." u can relax n leave it all to me....just wait n watch....." with that they hi fived n then as she sat in the car, aryan gave him a thumbs up, n went to ridhima's side to give her a hug n spoke in her ear "the name is armaan isnt it frisco???....c'mon about time you face your feelings tigress , anyways just so u know....he's approved!!!!!" as he let her go, ridhima gave him a solemn thankful smile n replied in a low voice, "um not sure aryan....not so soon anyways....we will talk when i get back....but u know what, il never guess how u know me so well....wish u were coming along....bye!" ....with that they drove off....armaan formulating his new plan, ridhima deciding to let things take their own desired course since she could no longer decide what she should want to happen....rahul n muski just bickering over which restaurant they should stop at for lunch break already.....


************

~Part 11~

"ok enough, two of u.....give it a break guys....can we have some peace in here or do we have to desert u somewhere on this highway n drive off by ourselves" ridz said that turning around finally, in a voice much louder than she could usually manage to muster up, after her endless efforts over the past 20minutes of the drive to be heard.....armaan shot her a cute look repeating her last words in a low voice "drive off by ourselves???!!!!" rahul looked down sheepishly, but not muskaan she just retorted back "oye hello????its my car....how can u throw me out of it????" to which ridhima replied with an irritating patience in her voice "correction....not urs, aryan's.....n he would be only too glad to have me throw u out, he hates u messing up his car anyways muski...." muskaan knew that was true n said in a retiring tone "fine have it ur way...ur right, bhai never gona side up with anyone against u.....not even his kid sis....." and with that she sat back with an angry sigh folding her arms across her chest, while ridhima just chuckled knowing her mock tantrums....speaking again she said "chill muski! um only telling u to shut up for a change cause of ...." turning on the radio to their favorite radio mirchi station she finished "this...its time for dev and nikhil's weekly show, remember???n that implies....." she left it at that and both armaan and rahul, puzzled noticed the gleam in the girls' eyes as she turned the volume higher...while muski squealed in delight "oooooohhhh yeh i forgot.....but u never forget this do u ridz" shaking her head and returning muskaan's hi-five she said in an excited voice "NEVER!!!" just as armaan opened his mouth to clarify what in the world was going on, ridz interrupted and said to muskaan again "same guys...lucky ali for me.... n beware today...um winning" as she giggled, armaan frowned hearing the 'lucky ali for me', while muskaan just stuck her tongue out at her and challenged back "NO WAY!!!...my atif aslam wins hands down all the time..."...it was rahul's turn to jerk his head up this time 'MY atif aslam'???? who the hell is he????he mused not quite pleased with the way muski had displayed her possession of him....armaan had had enough....with aryan's supportive statement he had been relaxed but who was this 'lucky ali' now, n why was ridz so excited about him....could he be better than me????no no no dude....aloud he said..."ummm...ladies....u wouldnt mind elaborating that coded talk, would u???" he finished clearly trying to mask his agitation at the this new unknown unexpected competitor....ridhima was going to explain but the voice on the radio station interrupted and so she signalled him to hush for then as she increased the volume..."hellllllllooooo everybody.......its time for dilliiiiii ka dev to rock the mirchi station again...." a weird laughter quipped up "ha hha hha hha ....good joke dev....um the entertainer here...remember boss said ur just supposed to assist me n change the tapes....newaz forget him folks...um ur very own U.L.T.A. - P.U.L.T.A nitin....n without further delay....let the countdown begin.....the first song today was a hit by the famous rockers bombay vikings and...." ridhima lowered the volume hearing that n said "thats zero each for round one muski...." while muskaan smirked n said "n zero it will be for u all through ridzi!!!" as ridhima shot her a fake sugar smile muskaan continued "n the dare this time wont be fun at all....for u that is!!!!" she finished with an evil smile....while armaan n rahul now completely lost with what was going on said at the same time "WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE????" before ridhima could start muskaan said "well its this game ridz n i play....this our fav show on the radio n they play 1 hour of songs from superhit indian albums....and ridhima n i have chosen one favorite singer each, n we count the number of songs played from each guys albums during the show.....and whoever has more songs played from amongst their singers' tracks wins" and then ridhima quipped in " n the loser has to perform a dare given by the winner...." both girls shot each other an intended challenging look as ridhima said this while rahul asked "so who is this atif aslam????" armaan answered before the girls could "him n the lucky guy must be the singers u chose right????" the way he said 'the lucky guy' made muskaan giggle at the sarcasm and she said "yeh the lucky guy unfortunately hardly ever gets ridz lucky....i win 7 out 10 times" to which ridhima responded with a glare at armaan and then looking at muskaan she said "we will see...."...rahul quipped up here "um with u ridz....its going to be the 3 out 10 times day today"....and as muskaan glared at rahul this time, ridhima said "thanx reg....ul see exactly how lucky this guy is, very soon..." while armaan not keen to be left out said "let them bring it on muskaan....we're ready....n armaan doesnt play to lose u know!!!" he said grinning, and winked at a flustered ridhima....who shot back "well there's always a first time....today will be yours...." and before she could speak further muskaan hushed them and moved forward to increase the volume as she heard the track ending....sure enough they heard the familiar RJ's again...."hello everyone, ur listening to me U.L.T.A. - P.U.L.T.A nitin..." " n me dilliiiiiii ka dev" ..."on delhi's beloved radio mirchi 98.3 FM...."the last part completed by both together....while dev continued "the next track is a few years old....but close to my heart, n must be so for many of u....."while nitin added "its a track sure to bring some memories back to each one of u....such is the magic that his coarse yet captivating voice weaves and..." dev interrupted increasing the music volume in the background "and they would rather be listening to the man himself than hear u blabber endlessly nitin....here's for all u dilwalas of dilli...." and as the beats rose in the car ridhima shrieked completely shocking armaan for a moment, while muskaan just slumped into her seat with a "dam u dev...." armaan looked at her as he heard her hum the music...along with the track from the radio.....all excited........he turned to muskaan with a questioning look and she answered in resignation "thats 1 point to her....n guess what... thats her favorite track from him....thats a double bad start....guess its her day....." as he turned back to say something in defense of their team he stopped short....she was now tapping her feet and clicking her fingers completely in accord with the music while turning around to hi five rahul, n give muski a thumbs down....armaan concentrated trying to understand the lyrics...hindi was not his area of expertise but he knew enough to give it a shot....especially if it was her favorite track....more than the singer he heard her as she sang in her unique beautiful n deep voice, ....


"Kabhi aisa lagta hai , dil mein ik raaz hai
Jise kehna chahoon,par main keh paaoo na...."

he stared at her, as he figured what those lines meant....wondering if he was interpreting them right cause the meaning seemed to fit so well for the two of them.......while she finally turned back from muskaan n rahul, to spare him a teasing look, which changed to a conscious one slowly as she faced his intense gaze while singing

"Aankhon hi aankhon mein keh jaati hai jo ye
Khamoshiyon ki ye kaisi zubaan"

breaking the look, she looked out of the window....n turning the song volume higher she stopped singing along for the song was singing the desire of her heart, the desire she did not want to reveal, as she was by singing with that passion.....why this song at this moment she wondered....was it another coincidence meant to be???....as the lyrics flowed

"Maine suna jo na usne kaha ..
Kya aisa hi hota hai pyar
Mere khuda mujhe itna bata
Kya aisa hi hota hai pyar....."

as the music played between the chorus and the para's he looked at her, the words were so apt....wish he could ensure he was not misinterpreting.... n then on a sudden instinct he grinned as if a plan just fell into place and switching to a genuinely innocent look, said..."nice song" as she looked up hearing his intended tone she saw him looking at her deeply, with a small smile....an expression she could not read....cautiously she asked "can u...ummm... understand the lyrics???" he said "yeh...." pausing as she looked up her body tensing slightly, he continued "i could.... if u translated for me????" and she sighed in relief....oh good lord....he cant understand....but wait ...oh shoot...he wants me to explain????no please not this song, cant explain without making my emotions obvious....but how could she say no....there was no plausible excuse...."muskaan does a better job at this translation business why dont u ask her...." she said her tone quite unconvincing no matter how hard she tried to not make it so....he smiled inwardly.....
her hesitance had confirmed the lyrics meant what he thought they did so he persisted "bad idea ridzi....she will yank my hair off for asking her to interpret a song thats making u win the game....guess il put up with ur lame translation....go on...." ridhima thought desperately of how to begin, as they both heard the next lyrics play

"Kaisa ehsaas hai , koi to paas hai     
Ye dooriyan hain phir kaisi yahan
Mehki lage ye saari fiza
Kya aisa hi hota hai pyar
Mere khuda mujhe itna bata   
Kya aisa hi hota hai pyar "

while armaan gave a small smile thinking...lets see u explain that sweetheart, ridhima, resigning to the inescapable situation, strated to explain but they both heard a cell phone ring....armaan realizing it was his slowed the car into the side lane and then getting it out, lowered the volume
of the music as he saw the screen flash, 'dad calling'....bad timing dad he thought n flipped open the phone to answer "dad! um driving fine...not fast, not drunk, and on the left side and.."
chris interrupted "i just wana ask hows it going with the lady sitting by your side.....i know ur not gona drive insane on an impression making day such as today...." armaan blushed slightly,
thanking the fact that she could not hear any of that....stopping the car completely and turning on the park lights he signalled to all three of them to excuse him and getting out the car
he walked a bit away before saying "well u just ruined a perfect moment dad....why did you have to call this very second....and i told u in the morning that you are not supposed to
make these calls while um here ....dad please....u better listen to me or i am never telling u about any more girls in my life....cant believe after i oblidged you by answering that rapid fire
round of yours about ridz just in the morning today before leaving, u still wont let me alone....u always to this dad...." he said grumbling like a little boy who thinks he is way smarter than
his old man...chris said when he finally finshed "well um sorry about spoiling a moment....but there's a correction....there will be no more girls in your life after her is my guess....so
your threat doesnt hold good....but u know what il grant u freedom from calls only if u promise to return with success....armaan grinned...."i will dad...if u interrupt no more....taj
was n will remain the benz confession spot!!!!!" with that he cut the call n went back to the car only to be yanked by a super excited muskaan who squeaked in delight n said...."armaan...thats
pehli nazar...my atif singing....we're 1 each now...." armaan grinned giving her a thumbs up n not missing the envious look on rahul's face as she was going gaga over her singer....getting
into the car ....he started driving again....then he finally looked at her, a sweet smile on her face, n the light breeze blowing her hair, still smelling fresh from the shampoo.....as she
was singing in a lower voice this time with her eyes lightly shut.....he came out of his frenzie as he heard the familiar english language, and then as he heard the words from
her he smiled wistfully.....

"Baby i love u
Oh i love u
I love u
I love u so
Baby i love u

as she mouthed those words lightly along with the song, he found himself wishing desperately for her do the same looking him in the eye.....and he wished at that moment to take hold of
her n confess his feelings too... but unwillingly he looked back at the road ahead of him n decided....not yet....i will wait....for her ready acceptance.... for the right moment...the right
spot.....n he just enjoyed the lyrics as they flowed further....his ears more sensitive to her whispered singing, than the blasting speakers playing the real track.....

" Kar diya Deewana dard-e-Khaas ne
Chain cheena isqh ke ehsaas ne
Bekhayali di hai tere pyaas ne
Chaya suroor hai
Kuch to zaroor hai
Yeh dooriyan
Jeene na de
Hal mera tujhe na pata
O jaan-e-jaan
Dono jahan
Meri bahon mein aa
Bhool Ja aa .."


**************


"ok are u finally going to let the cat out of the bag muski...whats the dare....if u keep it a secret i wont dream of what you want me to do" ridhima said in an agitated tone having lost the game yet again...
to think they had started perfectly...her singer n her fav track....n then that had turned out to be the only lucky ali track they had played...her favorite, yet she could not help smirking
at the irony of that very song being played...it did indeed define her current state of mind with utter perfection....well thankfully armaan had not asked her to translate the song for him
again.....and now, both of them had been endlessly teasing her about her 'LUCKY' ali!!!!as the waiter came to their table she saw muskaan's eyes gleam with mischief, and she knew
she should not expect a pleasant surprise....turning around she saw the waiter hand a whole plate of pani puri to muskaan who shoved it towards ridhima....she looked incredulously at
muskaan...."ur not serious" she blurted out, hoping muskan would tell her to walk all the way to agra as a dare, if only she could escape what was coming....but muskaan confirmed the
worst "i paid for that plate of 24 pieces hun....u cant think um not serious....all of them and u have 10 minutes....." "muskiiii....please....anything else not this...." she pleaded knowing the
rules of the game were always the same, whatever the dare u had to do it....armaan looked from ridz to muski n back n then back again and said "whats the big deal....u just have to eat
those....id say muski ur being way too easy on her...." to which muskaan grinned while ridhima clenched her teeth glaring at him, as muskaan said "oh no u wouldnt say that once u see the
way she eats that stuff....shes such a spectacle!!!!" ridhima's frown turned nasty as she started eating....she had always been clumsy at this....could never get the whole thing in one bite
the way it was meant to be eaten....as usual she tried, and not quite succeeding she bit the thing into half, consequently dropping all its contents the filling and the water into the bowl which
she held close...while muskaan just giggled uncontrollably..."why dont u eat the whole piece in one go ridzi" said rahul siding up with his partner to which muskaan retorted "yeh ridzi tell
him how uv been trying to do that in vain all ur life....hahahahaha!!!" she couldnt stop laughing....while ridhima just swore in an undertone, and cursed the mirchi station for making her
lose today of all the days....as she ate them the same way making a mess, never getting the whole piece, armaan just stared at her....she looked so cute, innocently trying hard to eat it
the right way but never quite managing to....looking like a kid who was being introduced to her first lessons on table manners!!!!as she saw him staring she thought miserably...great....of
all the people he gets to see me do this....ridzi why cant u never manage to eat this silly pani puri, its not exactly rocket science she thought reproachfully...well as an after thought thats much
easier....now this jerk gets yet another point to make fun of me as if there were not enough of them already.....as she was done with half the plate now, her eyes were watering slightly
with the sharp tasting pani puri water.. seeing her, he felt muskaan had been ruthless enough so he said "guess we can let her go beautiful....thats punishment enough dont u think" while
ridhima looked up slightly surprised to see him support her instead of mocking, muskaan said " o no....u dont know this wicked girl....she dint spare me last time with that horrid dare,
um not half as bad....getting me to ride a kids tricycle inside pizza hut singing the dhoom title track...." as she finished both the guys almost fell off their chairs laughing while ridhima remembering
the scene choked on the extremely spicy pani puri water.....as they all finally managed to control their laughter they realized ridhima was still coughing, infact she was red now, having
choked really bad....as armaan offered her water looking concerned muskaan said "oh no not that....ridzi doesnt handle spice levels like most of us indians, lets get her something sweet quick",
n armaan remebered the pack of his favorite fortune teller chocolates in his bag, opening it quickly he pulled out a handful, and handed her one after unwrapping it...he looked at her worried at
her worried as her eyes watered greatly now, and her face turned red from choking, as she slowly sucked onto the chocolate, she regained herself and then when atlast she looked fine
he gave her a glass of water....she took it from him smiling thankfully....as he said "are u ok????" she looked at him again, seeing his genuine concern, she felt touched, she had just choked
n he was.....muskaan interrupted her silent thoughts in a serious voice "ridzi....u fine now???" as she nodded muskaan said grinning "ok fine i let u go at that this time!!!" n then rahul quipped
"hey thats ur fav fortune chocolate pack???the dove thing????pass me one too..." as armaan passed the bag around taking one for himself, rahul gave an exclaimation " my fortune says um headed
an eventful trip!!!!now how accurate is that!!!!" while muskaan said "mine says red will work wonders for me soon....huh????" to which ridhima quipped now being back to normal "ooooohhhh
red huh muski....somebody is in love!!!!" hearing her cheeky statement rahul n muskaan both blushed while armaan read off his wrapper....he smiled as the meaning dawned in its full
implication....instinctively he picked up the wrapper of the chocolate he had given to a choking ridhima, n his smile widened as he grinned while muttering "someone sure is in love!!!"
muskaan meanwile said changing the topic "what about u armaan??? to which he replied in a studied tone which did not escape ridhima "well ridhima n i got the same fortune" he said
pushing the wrapper of her chocolate towards her n as she read it, he said "guess mr. newton wouldnt object if we added this to his laws of attraction, what say ridzi???"as she looked into his intent
gaze it spoke volumes to her n she knew the words of fortune were as true as any law she ever studied in physics....both muskaan n rahul took the wrappers from armaan n ridhima n
read out aloud simultaneously "WHEN TWO HEARTS RACE, THEY BOTH WIN!!!" all four of them looked up at the same time n smiling, got up to leave without speaking a word, everything had been said!!!!!

*************

~Part 12~

As they walked towards the car, while armaan and ridhima moved towards their respective doors, rahul n muskaan went for the same side without realizing since they were still thinking
about the fortune statement...it was only when their hands touched each others, trying to open the same door that they realized what they were doing, while armaan n ridhima already
in the car saw the scene and smiled approvingly at each other, n ridhima ruthlessly added out loud "muski are u planning to sit in reggie's lap??warning reg, she aint as light as she looks
" and as they blushed armaan grinned at her cheek and added "good idea u guys....dont worry ridzi n i are blind from now for the remaining part of the journey!!!" then in an undertone
he added only for the benefit of the girl by his side "cause we have some better stuff to do as well right honey???" before ridhima could say anything he added "you sure need to
get some romantic tips for from muski, she pulling off a much better job..." now ridhima just looked up fluttering her eye lashes in a mock coy way and indicated with her finger calling
him closer, completely taken aback by her reaction, he moved closer to her, rather hesitantly, while she just pulled onto his collar slightly and said in a low whisper into his ear "sure
i will....when i find my knight...worth being romantic for...." as he looked up into her eyes hearing her words his intense gaze and that familiar cologne made her realize how close she
had pulled him, trying to maintain her haughty look she just tossed her head facing the window, this was closer than she could handle....n the last thing she needed was him knowing the
only possible knight in her life worth it at that moment....while armaan had loved her move, and the way it had backfired, getting back to the wheel as he adjusted the rearview he saw
rahul opening the door for muskaan with an apologetic smile still blushing, and then moved to the other door himself.....as he got in to the car playing with the sunglasses in his hand
they slipped out of his hand and as both he and muski bent to pick them up, their heads collided....they looked up slightly rubbing the spots that had been hit, and seeing each other so
close, somehow they got carried away in an eyelock; armaam grinned, then not wanting ridhima to miss the scene he tugged lightly at her shoulder and as she turned around he put
a finger on her lips before she would speak and kill the moment and with his other forefinger pointed towards the couple in the rare seat, who were still stuck in the eyelock....seeing
them ridhima's smile deepened and armaan's eyes fell on her, he realized with a start she had dimples he had never noticed before....as she turned around her smile now having
reached the very corners of her lips she caught armaan staring at her, much the way rahul and muski were at each other, she lowered her eyes and as she was turning back to her only
refuge in the car, her window, armaan said in a low voice "i decided to stop bugging u from now" puzzled by this sudden statement she turned around with a questioning look and he said
in a hoarse whisper "well i thought u looked really cute with a frown" as she blushed taken by his compliment he continued taking his hands close to her face, n as she wondered
what he was going to do, mentally kicking herself to have frozen to her spot when she should move away, he pulled her lips in a smile and said "until i saw that knock out smile...." his
touch so close to her lips made her extremely conscious now, she just couldnt hold herself back anymore so she slowly pulled his hands away, and looking ahead, trying to not sound as
flustered as she was said "i think we should make a move....it will be dark soon" to which he replied cheekily, "oooohhhh what move do u want me to make honey???" as she jerked up at
his intended misinterpretation he spoke louder now "the dark envelope, a long drive, and an angel with a gorgeous smile..." her shock increasing, he continued smirking "what so u think
reg....want ridhima n me to leave u both with that picture perfect scene when u enter the city of love???" while ridhima broke into a relaxed smile, cupid struck couple broke
away from the stare, n she found herself thinking how easily he pulled her out of that conscious and awkward moment....but a small part of her deep inside wished he had
said those last words for themselves, not rahul n muskaan as he had....angel with a gorgeous smile she mused.....n as that widened her smile he glanced at her thinking thats exactly
what u look like right now.....

************

"I have to tell her ammy...i cant keep it in any longer...." as armaan saw his best friend pacing the floor of their hotel room, he grinned resting on the rocking chair and said "so what are
u waiting for, her to fall in love with me???!!!!" rahul shot him a look with daggers in his eyes and said "ammy, dude um trying to be serious here...what if she says no????" before
armaan could reply they heard ridhima quip up "she wont...." as they both looked at her sudden entry she added hastily "sorry i overheard since your door was slightly ajar and i just
came to ask you whats the plan for dinner.....but now i have a better idea...." armaan saw the gleam in her eyes and shook his head slightly, she was such a kid sometimes, all excited,
and looked so adorable....then shaking off these thoughts he said "what????" she turned to him and said "what if you are really tired from the long drive n i get a severe head ache....
they would have to go for dinner alone, and then rahul u can tell her ur feelings....she wont say no, i have known her for ages, and she likes u, i swear on...." armaan chipped in "on the
late mr. newton...." as she glared at him....this jerk AAARRRGGGGHHH...rahul said "cut it out u both....ridzi wouldnt she guess...armaan's tired ok....but why ur sudden headache???" to
which ridhima replied with sarcasm in her voice "well anybody sitting in the passenger seat with him driving, is likely to suffer from serious migrane attacks um just complaining of a plain
headache" rahul chuckled this time as armaan narrowed his eyes at her and said " lets postpone this discussion about who was trully victimized to a later time," and then facing rahul he
said "but shes right reg, much as i hate to admit this....muski does like u....we should follow ridzi's plan for now....u take muskaan out for dinner we both will put up our acts
....well she is the one who has to act, um genuinely tired...." finally rahul agreed with the plan...and ridhima moved back to her room to handle her part while armaan got into bed to put
up his pretense....

**************

after rahul and muski left ridhima smiled happily, hoping for the best, she really wanted the 2 of them to be together....she had acted quite real , it had seemd like u could
see the pain on her face.....as they left, leaving behind the two of them, she glanced at him sideways, wondering how to move on from here...."dinner???" he looked back at her in
a solemn expression, deep in thought and said "huh??? slightly puzzled by what was on his mind she said "dinner, i asked....i mean the act was only for muski's benefit...um not on a diet
for real u know....n anyways there is this wonderful dhaba close from here, we never return from agra without eating there n u just have to eat their..." armaan interrupted "no ridhima
um seriously tired....why dont u go ahead n eat out, um just going to bed early...." with that he turned around to enter his bedroom, while ridhima just stood there, now shocked......
what was with this guy????if he wanted they would have fun....n if she suggested something it was a flat denial....maybe he is worried about something she thought as a consoling
thought trying to justify his sudden change in mood, but not quite convinced...so entering his room after him..."is everything alright????" she asked softly to which he replied,
without looking back at her, in a somewhat distant tone "yeh yeh all fine....id just like to be alone for a while ridhima....good night" she got his indication n moved out silently, but
completely furious with herself....why did she do this....why did she even bother with guys like him....but there he was, being wonderful to her all through the day....was all that just a
facade, an obligation??????was his only concern getting rahul n muskaan together????well u knew this would come did u not, u emotional fool....u knew he was not ur guy....but another
voice inside asked her was he not even a friend????all his actions indicate thats the least we are....friends....but maybe not she thought now....it was not like he was treating her
different, but that was the whole point he behaved like a friend would, teasing, complimenting, bickering, having fun....and then that narration of his mum n dad....she had felt a special
bond in that....but was it all her optimistic imagination????u know all that 'u only see what ur eyes want to see' concept....enetring her room she bolt the door behind her and just
slumped to the floor next to it....holding her head in her hands she cursed herself to have expected so much more than ever could be....this had been coming....all that time she had
let things take their own coarse.....had she not known this was where it would end....why do u put yourself through all this ridzi....cant you ever keep trouble away....but she had
tried had she not....she had literally fought herself to maintain a distance....but oh well she thought, that was all just for his consumption, deep inside she had broken any barriers
there were to bind her emotions, she had left them to grow unchecked...now the price was her's to pay....well in that case, she told herself trying to reason with the unsettling gloom
that was enveloping her steadily, this is perhaps the best time for him to have knocked back some sense into me...thanks armaan, she thought with hurt sarcasm...i needed that....
the attraction is there, and it has been burgeoning all over within me....but um glad u put an end to it while it was still just that....an attraction....as silent tears finally started flowing
down her cheeks she thought, was it really just an attraction....why was she so deeply hurt then...why did it feel like he had snatched away from her something she was begining to get
accustomed to as if it was rightfully hers, and vitally so.....and leave him aside, she thought looking upwards and thought what about you god, why so many coincidences....why he of
all the people was atul's cousin just when i decided to take my time to get over that inkling of attraction....you made it go bigger....where was this headed????then she looked straight
ahead, her vision blurred through the flowing tears and said....no where....absolutely no where....there is nothing, and its headed no where.....i have made enough mess here...no more
ridzi, collect yourself girl, before you become a mockery in your own eyes....making that resolve did not really make her happy, in fact she was quite grim about the whole thing she
thought, but obviously, all unpleasant stuff in life cant be born with a smile....there have to be nasty bits to life, a balance between all positive and negetive for ultimate neutrality....and
as she shut her eyes, she was unable to block out his image so she opened them again, swearing in an undertone...and then she heard a knock......

**************

~Part 13~

As she left his room with a silent exit he turned around just in time to see the last fleeting glimpse of her....slowly he sat on the bed, still preoccupied....he had been fighting this feeling
all day....pushing it behind a facade of having a fun journey....but now he couldnt avoid it from crashing down on him, ....he was in agra finally....so close to the Taj.....and
it just made him feel closer to his mother....he shut his eyes, remembering images of her in his mind, from his childhood....then his teen years....her smile, her voice....he could hear her
call out his name....and he could see his dad hugging her while he stood teasing the two of them.....he could see her tell all the cooks to empty the kitchen and then just him and her
trying to bake his dad's favorite blueberry muffins for his birthday....he could see her surprised look as he uncovered her eyes to show her into her room with a complete makeover done
by him n his dad while she had been away to india for a month....he could feel her kiss him on his forehead.....then slowly armaan's smile transformed to a frown...and then moved to a
painful look.....as he remembered the call his butler answered teling him she was in the ICU,when he had called to tell her about their team winning the high school basketball
championship...he remembered catching the next flight back....he saw her in the ICU...on a ventilator....he saw his father, rigid and hiding all emotions as he,armaan completely broke
down and asked him to get him his mum back when he was asked to accompany him for the funeral service....he saw the scene from the final rites being performed in india....he
remembered the months that followed....he remembered his dad by him all the time...he remembered the hard time he gave him asking persistently to get his mum back
....silent tears now flowed down from armaan's eyes....he opened them slowly....and opened his wallet to retrieve the picture of his mum dad from the proposal....the one with the taj
in the backdrop, i miss u mum, he thought as he smiled through his tears seeing it, it always made him smile, it was so special..he remembered talking about it to ridhima the night
before.....he remembered her completely attentive and smiling face as he had rattled off the whole story to her.....she did make it so easy to talk out, in fact he had felt excited
sharing it with her and.....and then with a start he realized how he had sent her away few minutes ago....oh no he thought.....what had she asked me....oh yeh dinner....shoot dinner
she asked me for dinner n i sent her back....oh god how lame was that dude.....he wiped off his tears and looked at the photograph again...."u would have loved her mum....she is quite
like u.....well not as good, she gets angry way too soon...but thats cause um not quite an english gentleman like dad either"...he chuckled then added...oh but mum what should i do now
i was just....duno what happened when i saw rahul and muskaan go out together, in red...that was the dress code in the restaurant they have gone to.....just the scene...i couldnt help
it...u know how happy i am for them dont u mum...but it just all gripped me then....n ...oh no" he said getting up in a fluster now...."what should i do....dad...yeh he will know what to do
....saying so he speed dialled to chris and even before he could say hello armaan rattled off with his story...after hearing him out chris said "well then firstly give her what she wants..."
"and whats that???" chris shook his head "armaan have u lost it son???? dinner of course...she was hungry i guess if she actually asked u out for it....." armaan scratched his head with
a sheepish look and said "oh yeh, dinner of course....but what if she is mad at me????" chris sighed on the phone "i dont think there is that option of a 'WHAT IF' here son...um sure she
must be mad at you....u couldnt expect any less after acting like an insensitive jerk with her...." to which armaan retorted in a whining tone " but daaad ....i was missing mum....u dont
know how hard...." and he stopped mid sentence, realizing that how inaccurate his words were, if someone knew how hard this was for him, it was his dad, so he said quietly "i mean, ur
right....i am a jerk...so do i just take dinner for her....will she be pacified???" chris smiled, thinking what a transformation this was for his son, so suave with all the ladies who had been
a part of his life....but then he remembered how erratic his own behavior had been with his beloved, so unlike his usual calm and composed self, and realized it was armaan's turn to go
through that phase now....as armaan broke his chain of thoughts with a "dad u there????" he replied "yeh i am...well u take the dinner for her son....and try to explain the whole thing
earnestly to her....she deserves to know, both cause you have wronged her even if not intentionally, n also cause you make me believe she is the girl for u....and you know what armaan
if she is the one....u wont have to put much effort...she will understand.....love does that....it doesnt ask for justifications or rectifications....." armaan smiled and said "thanks dad ur
the best" and he cut off the call leaving chris shaking his head smiling on the other end as he looked up and said..."cant believe our son has finally grown up sweetheart....help him
tonight, he needs u, i really think she is the one for him.....".....

***********

now as he stood outside her door, for the first time in his life, he was hesitant to be facing one from the fairer sex..."buck up dude...ur fine...ul be fine...just...just go on now...." and he
knocked.....hearing no response he knocked louder and then he realized seeing no streak of light penetrating from beneath the door that the lights of the room were turned off.....oh
no he thought....had she gone off to sleep hungry???its all my fault...c'mon sweetie open the door he urged silently knocking yet again....ridhima on the other hand was definitely not
asleep....as she heard the knocking on the door on which she was resting her back, her muscles stiffened slightly, had muskaan already come back she thought, but she dismissed the
idea the very next moment, nah....she never knocks...and she has the key.....who could it be....she waited, still as a statue as the knock was repeated two more times, and
finally when she decided that she would have to open the door and see who it was, she stood up wiping her tears to look a bit more presentable, and was about to unbolt when she froze
hearing his voice "ridhima....please open the door honey....i got us dinner....." she stopped in her tracks....now why was he here again she thought looking up and giving where she
presumed her god was a pleading look.....armaan, who had finally spoken after not hearing a response to his knocks, thought he heard some motion very close to the door just before he
spoke....and so he repeated, following his intuition this time "c'mon ridzi....please open the door....look um really really sorry....i just....nothing...please ridz, i know ur there....open the
door honey...." hearing him address her that way just infuriated ridhima now....and she thought with angry tears flowing down her eyes....what do u want from me armaan....um not
your typical girl....stop doing this to me....you dont care cause um just another girl u can call 'honey' but it matters a lot to me...." then wiping off her tears she tip toed to her bed
and decided to let him do what he pleased until he decided to give up assuming she was indeed sleeping....she would face him tomorrow she decided, with more composure, and a
greater determination...yes, if he thought he was just going to mess around with her, he would have to think again...she was not going to let this happen his way.....armaan meanwile
had a strong feeling of her presence on the other side of the door...but that could be just his imagination....she must be asleep, and then again, everything was so unusually still....was
she even in there...what if she had gone off for dinner by herself as he had told her to???dam, i hope not....its quite late n dark for her to be walking around alone....he gave it a last
desperate shot wishing more than anything for her to open the door even if she would just yell at him...."ridzi...look um woried now....are u ok???c'mon uv gota be hearing me...open
the door honey..."she clenched her fists in an effort to not cry any more in her anger as she heard him mention his 'mock concern'...can you stop it she wanted to yell..but at that
very moment her cell ring made her almost jump out of her skin and as a spontaneous action as she was going to pick it up, she knocked off a vase on the bedside table not visible in
the dark....armaan who had called her, heard first the cell, then something break n knew now that she was inside, and awake, just ignoring him....he said in a relieved voice "ridzi
will u open the door???then in a quieter tone "please honey, look i really am sorry....i know ur hungry n so am i....lets eat dinner i ordered the food....just let me in...." she knew that
there was no point pretending she was asleep but she could not bear to let him see her so weak....so she stayed quiet hoping he would get the message and just let her be....while he
was now losing patience and said "ridhima, can u stop the pretense please????just open the dam door..." then quickly realizing he had no right to be angry he said in a guilty lower
tone "why are you being so stubborn ridz????i know i made a mistake and i said i am sorry honey, will you open the door and let me explain???" ridhima too could take it no more and said
in a clearly hurt yet cold voice "of course not...how can your lordship sir benz make a mistake....n why are you bothered about the insignificant me????just let it go armaan, i no you
dont care, n i am not asking you to, but please stop playing with my feelings, i cant take it anymore....just leave me alone..." hearing her words with her voice breaking towards the end
of her sentence, he stood stunned for a few moments....playing with her feelings????thats what she thought he was doing????for heavens sake what was wrong with the women in his
life what would he have to do to prove how serious he was....first u left me mum, just like that without a warning, n now this girl....i love her to bits....and she thinks I AM PLAYING WITH
HER FEELINGS???just cause i told her i was tired for dinner???feeling helplessly shattered now, his emotions were getting the better of him, and he dint know how much longer he could
face it being steady, he spoke in a defeated voice..."i dont know what makes u feel that way ridhima, but the last thing i intended was to play with your feelings...i know i did not behave
the right way a short wile ago, but i was just....its just...the city and....anyways um leaving the food outside, please eat it i know u are hungry, i am going so u wont get angry anymore,
just have the food please...." and she heard him put what she presumed were the the boxes of the foos he must have ordered, and then as true to his word, she did hear his footsteps
growing faint as he walked away....after lying still for about 10minutes post his departure from the scene, she finally let her muscles relax....then getting out of her bed slowly she made
way to the door...she stood holding the handle of the door for a few more minutes, until she finally decided to open it, and there at the doorstep, as he had said were boxes of food,
she bent to pick them up, somehow could not subdue a guilty pang inside her.....why am i feeling guilty she thought....he is the one who uses me all the time, with me when he wants to
be and then pushes me away when he does not need me....n now just cause he left some food i should feel guilty???but in her head his words resounded...'last thing i intended was to
play with your feelings' and then 'its just the city' and....hang on she thought....the city????slowly it dawned upon her....agra...the Taj...this city was special to him....but should that not
make him happy???i mean it was his parents' special spot...what was the issue then....why had he suddenly seemed lost and then talked to her like a nobody....he loves his mum and his
dad....a city so special to them should have made him happier...but she recalled his tone from his last lines to her before he left the food for her, he had sounded miserable...now what
could eventuate that????as she looked at the boxes of food again she thought, he has not eaten either i guess...i wont let him play anymore games with me, but i cant keep his favors...
should ask him to eat with me as well....as she knocked on his door.......

************
As he rushed back to his room, he shut the door behind him....he couldnt bear this anymore the city had its effect on him in the first place, he felt like the void from the absence of his
mom, had suddenly become as large as it had been in those first few months without her....being here was taking its toll much as he had expected...the void had never trully filled up
and thats what had caused him to make this trip....he had never gotten over it completely and had known he would have to face the country of her final rites once in his life to get
back to being trully himself, with an absolute acceptance of facts, he wanted to perform, what in his opinion were her final rites at the taj itself....n now ridzi....she thought he was
playing around with her???for heavens sake, he had after all those years post his mother's death for the first time dared to dream of another woman he could trully love, who he felt for
as unconditionally as he did for his mother, n she thought he was.....he felt disgusted....he had joked with her n teased her a lot....but never for a second had he thought she would
read that as his schemes to trap her....here he was, dealing with two biggest truths of his life n she thought it was all but a game for him....as he paced his room, his eyes fell on his
guitar, which as usual had travelled with him...picking it up he decided it was time to do what he had come for to this county ,without furher delay...he had to get out of agra at the
earliest...after completing his task........with that he moved out, leaving the door barely shut behind him.....

**************

As she knocked on the door waiting for him to reply, she suddenly realized it was open....turning the knob she walked into the dark room, n after feeling the walls finally found the switch
n turned it on....the room was flooded in light blinding her momentarily since she had been in the dark for a wile now.....the room was vacant..."armaan" she called out somehow finding
her voice...but there was no response....she called out for him a few more times checking evey corner of the room, half expecting half hoping him to jump out of some corner claiming it
was his new joke....but no....he wasnt there....now a new feeling of panic seized him....had she been too harsh....was he alright????where could he be????

****************

~Part 14~

She dropped the boxes of food in complete frenzy now and ran out of the room....her thoughts were a blur....where could he be...."i am going" yeh thats what he had said....but going
where....and....why had he not locked the room behind...maybe he was just in here...like in the hotel just taking a walk....yeh he must be close how could he just leave the room open if
he was not going to be around....she made her way to the reception and asked "hi, would you have any idea where the occupant of room 23 Armaan Christopher Benz might be....i mean
did he leave a message for someone or...." and not knowing exactly what it was she wanted to ask she just looked at the receptioninst, who said "Well i am not sure, its a big hotel to
keep track of eveyrone..." ridhima interrupted "is there a way to know whether he is in the hotal or not????" the receptionist nodded thinking "yes i think we could check that out in the
customer services zone...gime 5minutes..." ridhima nodded nervously, and started pacing the floor....then she slowed down and sat...ok ridzi calm down think....what exactly had he
said....and she ran the whole almost one sided converstaion across the shut door through her mind....until she remembered it again....'its just the city'...for the life of her she could not
understand what he may have implied....it was special to him thats all she knew...just then her thoughts were interrupted by the receptionist who said "excuse me ma'am, " and
ridhima rushed to the desk "did u find him" she shook her head "we dint but his car is not in the park lot....and the parklot incharge said that he, sir benz asked him the directions
to the Taj before driving away...." smiling gratefully ridhima began to make a run to the door then turning back hastily she said..."two more favors, could u arrange me an immediate
ride to the Taj......could i get a paper and a pen????" the receptionist nodded, handing her the paper n pen and making a call for a cab....ridhima meanwile scribbled a note for reg and
muskaan leaving no details except that armaan and she were at the Taj mahal, and would be back soon....well, she thought, atleast i sure hope so....
As she was finally riding the cab to the Taj, her mind felt restless...armaan had told her about the proposal and all that...and so the taj was special to him she guessed...well he had
planned on agra just for that it had sounded like when he had narrated the story to her the previous night...but was that all there was to the thing....she browsed over the events of the
evevning one by one...armaan n ridhima's plan for rahul n muski with rahul in the scheme...its implementation....and then....as they had left the problem had started....he had been cold
n distant all of a sudden....almost like he just wanted to get rid of her at that moment she thought her eyes struggling to stop the hurt tears from welling up again...then suddenly he
had a change of mind n decided perhaps that he did indeed want her to humor him for the evening and had got her dinner...correction, had got them dinner and then....all that he had
spoken from outside the door.....why was he showing all that concern....could he really mean it all....no ridz not again...dont even entertain that thought of him giving a dam about your
existance in his life again.....thats just him....he knows his ways with girls and u start thinking its you....no not again...but he said he was not playing with her feelings...well obviously why
would he say that...in fact he really might be honest about it....all this is perhaps his usual attitude with all girls, he was just being himself not playing with her feelings....but i have to
maintain a distance now....cause i just cant take any of it in the normal stride.....his flirting, his closeness, his compliments, his flattering banter, even his teasing....HIM...yeh...she
was getting addicted to the person he was....the attraction was getting out of control....bad idea....just be usual ridz....he is all that with u as he probably is with all the girls he knows...
n well they were in on a common rahul-muskaan mission now so that had added to their interaction time....that was all it was to him...he was perhaps not intentionally using her,but this
was not normal for her so she would just have to stay on guard as much as she could....then she thought so why am i going to the Taj after him????well cause thats what courtsy
demands right now girl....he just asked for his space and you were unreasonable with him blaming him when the real culprit is your own weakness for him.....n u blamed him for stuff u
were expecting out of him without a base n didnt get...that wasnt his fault.... n he still got u dinner....yes....the least u can do is apologize for ur immature outburst n then be formally
cordial...just that.....n keep distance, n form no more bias against him giving in to ur weak emotions n bias....n then you will be fine...it may take time but its just an attraction... n even
if its more, she admitted reluctantly, its all one sided so just get over it....with these thought she had a grim smile on her face....it was not going to be easy but she had no option, she
had called the shots n the trouble caused was all hers to handle now, and she would......

*************

She gripped her shoulders rubbing them to get warm, n then rubbed her hands together and blew into them trying to get them warm too...she had left in such a hurry,n frantic state
of mind that she had overlooked the fact that it was the month of December and though Indian winters were no where close to American snow laiden winters n the Midewest n east coast
the air was still cold enough if all u were wearing was a pair of jeans with sleeveless cotton top, since she had overlooked picking up her hoodie or a warm shawl....but the cold was only a
feeling in the back corner of her head as she subconsciously tried to keep the cold away by rubbing while her pimary thought was only abut him...where are you, she thought not able to
keep the desperation away despite the formal behavior she had decided to adopt with him....if only once i find him, she justified within as she walked from the 2 Km away non drive
circumference boundry towards the Taj....suddenly a wolf whistle followed by a cat call got her conscious...oh no she thought...not this now....it was not uncommon to face random
eveteasing if she walked alone at this time of the night without even any warm stuff on, but the patterns were different in metros like Delhi n small cities like agra, n she had been away
from all this past few months, this was hardly a moment she wanted to be reintroduced to it....she gathered pace....but she realized they, it seemed to be a couple of random boys
were not likely to call it quits....she broke into a light trot, though it was not the wisest thing to have done...bad idea, just made them think u were scared.....but thats what she was
now, with them on her back, n him no where in sight...WHERE ARE YOU ARMAAN she thought now with more desperation than ever....and her feet followed a spontaneous intuition, without
her actually realizing it, she moved towards the pond view on the front side of the Taj Mahal....as she closed on, she could feel the guys not far behind, there comments having gathered
more momentum with her speeding steps, she crossed her fingers, and then she heard it....the same tune....yeh it the same song alright, the one he had played for her in the music
store in frankfurt waiting lobby....a sigh of relief escaped her as she now heard the singing, the lyrics a bit faint since she was still not within sight of him, but then as she followed the
music she could start to make them out, as she spotted him, sitting on the higher cemented berm of the bond....strumming the guitar....running faster now, much more relieved she
headed in his direction n wanted to call out his name...but as she heard his voice now, it sounded like it did not want to be interrupted...

"If i wanna see you, I just close my eyes.
If i wanna be with you, don't think it's a big surprise.
And I just wanna hold your hand
you're so beautiful, think you should understand.
Cuz this world could come to an end
if i cannot be with you, yeah!!!
I hope that you'll take my hand
We will bring back the feelings that are frozen in my heart...."

She saw his eyes were shut as she got close enough, he sang with much more passion than she had felt in the lead singer's voice when she heard the cd in the store....as she ran the last
few steps....she dropped to his feet, and catching her breath, looked back to see her followers disperse....as the chorus reached her ears she turned around looking at his face...

"You're beauty is unexplainable
You're softness unimaginable
These feelings i can't redeem
Cuz it's only a lucid dream

and she saw a lone tear flow down his eyes.... which were still shut .....

"I wanna make it real
That's the only way i feel.
I'm living in a lucid dream
I can't change the way i feel....."

and her eyes now fell in a side glance on a piece of paper lying by his side, and withdrawing her gaze from his face reluctantly, as he continued strumming the guitar harder than was
perhaps required, she picked it up....and stared at it....it was the photograph he had described to her the night before....the proposal picture....and it looked very old...perhaps it was the
original.....she stared at it, realizing what he had meant saying it was perfect....the two lovers with the Taj behind them....it looked like they were taking the vows of love n life with the
Taj as the soul witness.....she did not blink several seconds....she was just so entranced by the picture....didnt hear a string from the guitar snap.....did not even realize the music had
stopped..."its perfect isnt it???" she finally managed to rip her eyes from the picture, hearing him whisper those words....as she slowly looked up into his intense eyes, she saw in them,
still tears, as they spoke volumes....n for once it was he who broke the eyelock....n gently took the picture out of her hands...."i miss her so much" he said looking up towards the sky
trying to check his tears as a couple more flowed down his face....she spoke slowly not knowing why or what she was saying "why dont u call n talk to her???" armaan jerked back,
staring at her with a look, she could not read, but it made her regret what she had just said, not knowing why....and then he suddenly broke into a sarcastic smile, which slowly turned
into, it seemed to her, a painful one, and she knew she had said something wrong when he opened his mouth to speak but could not....not knowing what to do, she just held his hand in a
tight grip....n shtting his eyes he said, with considerable effort it seemed "cant...." opening his eyes he looked into her eyes n continued "she...ummmm..." he could not bring himself to
say the words...he stood up n turned to face the reflection of the Taj in the pond....slowly, he opened his hand, letting go of the photograph in his hand, n it swayed in the light breeze
before finally falling in the water.....n feeling her surprised questioning look upon him he spoke without looking at her, instead looking at the sky again "she is, as kids say, now a star"
pointing to the sky "up there...." her look transformed to a shocked one....a star....did he mean...."she passed away a during my final year in high school...." he said
finally speaking what he had not once spoken since that day it had happened years ago....he had never been able to say it aloud, thinking that would make it real, but now finally as he
said those words, he realized she had perhaps gained her eternal peace, as he finally let his mother go free.....n then he felt her hand on his shoulder , a grip which had no pity or
sympathy, and he turned to look her in to her emerald eyes, all they promised were support...ridhima slowly made him sit again, n herself sat down on the ground again, close his feet to
be able to see his face completely and said finally breaking her silence "she is not A STAR..." as he looked at her puzzled, she resumed "she is THE BRIGHTEST STAR..."n his face slowly
broke into a smile....she smiled back, holding onto his hands in her own reassuringly....speaking with her eyes n gestures alone...he broke the gaze, a second time, and looking sideways
he said, "ridhima i...." then looking at her again..."i'm sorry...." now she looked up surprised he continued "about the dinner....i was just....so overwhelmed with being here...in the same
city....n....i just...." as he struggled to find words ridhima said "its ok...i'm sorry too....i over reacted...." then trying to change the topic..since she did not want to fall weak with any of
her emotions again she asked in a casual voice "so is that your favorite song????u have a spellbounding voice...." he smiled at her a funny smile and said "mum said that too, exactly
that....its her favorite song from all the ones i wrote before...." he left it there then holding her hands he said in a solemn voice "ridhima, i never meant to play with your feelings....i
apologize trully if any action of mine made it appear so, but i never had any such intentions, not in the least...." feeling her emotions rising at his touch, she slowly pulled her hands away
thinking, there u go ridhim, he means it u know that now....the point is why would u assume he's playing with your feelings...HE IS NOT YOUR LEAGUE RIDZI....not even to play games....
ur just.....she didnt know what she could possibly be in the life of the guy she knew she had fallen for, bigtime....as she got up, indicating they should leave, and turned she froze hearing
his words..."I LOVE YOU RIDHIMA!!!"

************

~Part 15~

She felt stumped...for several long seconds which seemed to last forever she was indeed stumped, then she felt herself shiver....and she dint know if the cold was getting to her again or
the words she had just heard.....supposedly heard, she corrected....i must be hallucinating cause it cant.....she shivered again, this time with his touch, as he gently slid his jacket onto
her shoulders from behind and then wrapped it securely coming forward to face her....lifting her face up from her chin "i love u..." he repeated much more softly this time, denying her
assumption of it being a hallucination...it was real...well as real as the fact that she was ridhima, he was armaan n behind them was the Taj....but how could it be real was the question...
she stood with her face enveloped in a stillness, not knowing what emotion to display, while her heart n mind raced, trying to beat each other....the usual dilemma, now having reached the
peak point in the debate....was it or was it not....and her mind won for now....reminding her of her resolve...she had to stick to it....but c'mon girl get a grip...whats the issue now????he
just confessed dint he....he said he loves u...u are not a nothing in his life.....yeh right quipped her mind again, and those are the words he never uttered before me thats what i should
safely presume???he said he loved me...point 1: how true is that....point 2: him saying he loves me...and me saying i love him, big difference....even as she thought the words 'i love him'
she felt the shiver again.....armaan who could read nothing from her blank look, was trying hard to know what she was thinking, feeling her shiver again, he just pulled her closer gently
rubbling her shoulders and then letting go, he cupped her face with his hands to make her look up....the moment she did he knew she loved him too....but as she slid his hands off her
face and turned around as if to walk away he wondered what was holding her back....but the look in her eyes a moment ago told him not to be dejected or give up.... he ran up again to
face her and asked, with genuine concern "ridzi....what happened....please dont leave just yet...." and slowly he made her move back close to the pond, and not facing any repulsion
made her sit on the berm sitting below himself this time and said "i have been meaning to tell u this.....i...just cant fight this feeling it keeps growing within....i....love u sweetheart...."n
as he looked intently at her face without a moment's lapse she sighed and said in a voice which seemed to reflect the effort she was putting in while speaking "how many times have u
said that before in ur life armaan...." his look changed to puzzled surprise and as he raised his eyebrows she said "how many times have u fallen in love????" as he remained quiet now
completely taken aback by her question she resumed, sighing again "its ok....leave it at that....i dont want to know actually..." then looking away she said "this may sound supremely out
of trend and orthodox to you but i have never said those words...neither been in love before, until"....and she looked back at him his eyes completely on her as if he saw or heard nothing
else at that moment....she was slightly unnerved by his undivided attention but continued anyways clenching her fingers hard in the effort her fingernails digging deep into her palm"until
i met u...." these words softened his expression and her voice as she spoke further "yeh, until i met u...n it has been no rest with an ongoing battle in my head ever since....a battle to
escape u, to escape the feeling, to escape from myself....but no matter how hard my resolve the latter perhaps is impossible....i cant run away any more...." looking into his eyes now
with a sudden determination, having let that out she spoke further "there u go, u have it all....the complete truth.....my complete truth...but we cant overlook the fact that theres two
of us here....a relationship does not run with one....u say u love me, i have no reason to deny ur words, or think them fake....but its just different for the two of us....ur not wrong n um
not right...but armaan....this love...is not new to u, neither the words....my love doesnt become superior cause its for the first time....but i just....dont think we perceive or value it the
same way....u were right, its hard to escape your charms....in fact knowing the kind of girl i am i can say its perhaps not humanly possible, but....my love is not, as u say, n i have been
trying to assume, an attraction....well not just that i mean....its much more....its....deeper...n...i might be saying this in a very bad way but the last thing i am intending is to be condescending
about the feeling you claim...u know what i mean???..." at that moment they were both interrupted by a loud scream, and while ridhima looked up to see the source, armaan turned
around....and they saw the two familiar people in red....ridhima ran to muskaan and hugged her....she needed to break the moment so terribly....and there was no one better than muski
right now, while armaan just sat there in the same position looking at his hands, which had held hers moments ago...rahul said "thank god...u guys had us so worried" as ridhima
broke away from the hug and armaan looked back up at him muskaan said "what did u think u were doing walking out of the hotel like that???" then looking at ridhima she asked concerned
"is everything ok??" as ridhima nodded mukaan was still not convinced so she said "didnt u get the note i left for u guys???everything is fine, we just came here....generally..." and she
looked up at armaan for support, but he gave none, just looked at her, in deep revelation it seemed...muski's next words pulled her eyes off his face "yeh right...n u both did not
bother to lock the rooms behind you????n had food boxes unopened but scattered all over the carpet in the guys room???" ridhima was now trapped....she said quietly..."yeh there was
a problem...." and then looking up she said with quiet finality in her voice which did not escape armaan "but its resolved...c'mon lets go, um really tired now..." as she pulled muski
slightly urging her to move rahul who had walked to armaan in the meanwile held onto his shoulder urging him to make a move too....but armaan did not spare him a look, or a thought...
for then he could just think of her words...and he knew now....completely what she was thinking and feeling, what was holding her back....cause he knew she felt just like him...she did not
however apparently know he felt as deep as her too....he had to clear her misconception....tell her she was the one, the only one....n he knew it was now or never...as she walked away
with muskaan, feeling a load of emotions she couldnt handle too long, she stopped in her tracks hearing him, no music this time except his spellbounding voice....

"Like a dream you can't explain
Love can chase the beating of your heart
Like the sunshine in the rain
Love can make your whole world fall apart"

as both muskaan and rahul stared at armaan... ridhima just stood rooted to the spot her back facing armaan as he carried on...

"But I want it now
I just wanna spend my life with you"

and muskaan now turned to stare at ridhima....who was standing still....armaan paused and went on, his voice becoming deeper emotionally

"Time will show me how
Suddenly everything has turned me inside out
Suddenly love's the thing that I can't live without"

and she finally turned around slowly to face him....he started walking towards her his hands in his pockets, singing on, his eyes and his lyrics competing as to which was speaking
greater volumes...

"You're my dream, my love, my life
I just wanna spend my life with you
You're the one that makes me smile
I just wanna spend my life with you
Got my love somehow
I just wanna spend my life with you"


he faced her as she looked down, then he walked circling around her not taking his eyes off her for a second, while she just stood looking straight ahead....or anywhere else except him...

"You can show me how
Suddenly everything has turned me inside out
Suddenly love's the thing that I can't live without"

now facing her again as she lowered her gaze he bent down on his knees and held her hands in his, gently but in a firm grip....and she finally met his gaze

"You're my dream, my love, my life
I just wanna spend my life with you
You're the one that makes me smile
I just wanna spend my life with you "

she withdrew her hands from his, and he could feel how hard she was fighting herself to do it in her eyes....as she made to walk away, he, still on his knees, held onto her wrist, not letting go
as she put up no struggle, just as he expected....he knew she was giving in to her true feelings....and he continued

"What have you done to me?
Is this how it's meant to be?
Can't control this feeling in my heart

and he got up to face her, this time she did not look away....

"I can see paradise
Glowing inside your eyes
And I know you feel it in your heart"

and he lifted her hand kissing it softly

"But I want it now
I just wanna spend my life with you
Time will show me how
Suddenly everything has turned me inside out
Suddenly love's the thing that I can't live without"

finally as tears threatened to flow out of her eyes armaan cupped her face in his hands...

"You're my dream, my love, my life
I just wanna spend my life with you "

he pulled her lips into a smile with his thumbs, she looked at him, and this time, she did break into a real smile, he smiled back overjoyed,

"You're the one that makes me smile"

and then stepping back again opened his arms calling her into an embrace, singing as if in conclusion....

"I just wanna spend my life with you"...

and she moved into his hug, holding on tight, as he fastened his embrace around her, securely, to never let go.....

after several moments in a still embrace she whispered, "I love u Armaan..." hearing those words, he smiled, deeper and more real than he had in years now, before breaking from the
hug, looked up into the sky, and then at the taj, then loosened his hug....looking at her again, gripping her from both her shoulders he said "i know..." as she shot him a curious look, eye
brows raised, he said in a serious voice " girls always do..." ending with a cheeky smile, while her look changed to a murderous one....was he still joking, how could he....and she struggled
to get out of his grip, which only seemed to get more firm....she looked at him irritated, only to find him grinning, but as soon as she opened her mouth to speak he quietened her with a
"ssshhhh" putting a finger on her lips...."but to answer your question, " he now said not only in a serious voice but with a solemn expression "you are the only girl i ever loved...or ever will..."
and looking back into his intense gaze, she slowly relaxed....her frown easing out, and ultimately she just stared at him....neither of them speaking anymore, nor blinking...."ahem, ahem"
said rahul now, finally recovering from the shock....and that brought muskaan back too as she quipped "if your 'who will blink first' competition is over, i demand an explaination" she
said with pretended anger on her face....ridhima started "ummmm...muski....its...u know..." muskaan interrupted "no i dont know....thats why um asking of course" as she continued
tapping her foot on the ground looking ready to pounce on her as soon as she confessed the obvious, armaan grinned, looking from muskaan to ridhima back to muskaan...and letting go of
ridhima he moved towards muskaan n said in a studied tone, "we will explain muski but before we do..." he said now standing next to her, lifting her left hand " i must say, nice
ring"...it was muskaan's turn to to turn red, while rahul grinned winking at armaan, and ridhima said stepping forward following armaans lead..."OMG muski...a ring???in the ring finger
???? n um the one ur asking for an explaination....???" muskaan now felt cornered, blushing hard....then giving up she just pulled ridima into a hug not speaking while ridhima said eyeing
her red knee length dress after she pulled her out of the hug.... "red finally working the wonders huh???!!!!" muskaan decided she had been a target long enough...and replied " yeh it did
i guess...but um still waiting for my explaination...." to which ridhima replied "there isnt any explaination"...shooting armaan a fake angry look she said "what should i explain???the lordship
is just namesake....i didnt even get a ring..." armaan jerked up now...and then walking towards her he smiled and said in an excited voice..."what are u saying ridhima???is that a yes, even before i
proposed????gosh honey, u really are quick...or just in a hurry to get the namesake ladyship i guess!!!" he finished winking, while she just stuck her tongue out at him and retorted..."yeh
right the big great sir benz....forget the ring....hasnt even gotten me dinner for the evening...." now rahul shot "um with you ridzi...hes such a jerk...no ring...n no dinner...just a song
and hes all set....i think u should reconsider your decision before its too late!!!!" armaan raised his hands in surrender and said "alright fine u hungry monsters....dinner on me...where are
we headed???"...ridhima and muski spoke together "the dhaba of course!!!"....

*************

~Part 16~

As rahul and muskaan took seats in the cramped up place with just a few rickety tables and chairs, armaan stared all around him....then whispered in ridhima's ears "are you sure u wana
eat here ridhima????i can afford better places baby, my assurance u wont have to do their dishes as a payback...." ridhima gave him a sarcastic smile and said "armaan if you dont do something
about your declining sense of humor i really will have to reconsider my decision...." as armaan still stared at the place, she sighed and said..."trust me...you will never have eaten better food.."
to which he muttered with uncertainity "as long as it doesn't kill me...." he looked back at her to see her glaring n said in a whinning protest "WHAT??????u want me to die on the night
of the confession itself???bad idea sweetheart, all those chicks back in stanford will so totally blame u..." as her glare deepened with an added nuance of puzzlement he explained "they
will think i died of shock cause u took my joke seriously and said yes...." he ended chuckling n she punched him hard on his shoulder....as he rubbed his shoulder she pulled him to sit down and
n while the guy serving their table was putting the plates, she stopped him from putting one for armaan...armaan said in a cheeky voice "ooooohhhh i see your plan...u want us to eat from the same
plate...aaawwww thats so thoughtful of u honey" while ridhima fluttering her lashes looked at him and said in a sugarly sweet tone "of course not darling, um just saving u from dying,"
then givivng him an angry look again "NO FOOD FOR YOU..." she said louder than usual...before armaan could protest muskaan came to his rescue..."DARLING????wow ridzi...sounds soooo
romantic....lucky u armaan...." she said winking at him, ridhima blushed....while rahul let out a deep sigh and resting his head on muskaans shoulder, who clearly got
flustered by his sudden action said "wonder when i am gona get lucky...." winking at ridhima to show he was her ally as usual....as the food came arman kept trying to sneak bites from
ridhima's plate but she succeeded in failing all his attempts...."c'mon ridzi um hungry seriously, why dont u let me eat???" while ridhima shot him an innocent look "oh but i thought you
were the one who gave us all reasons to not eat this food....how can we endanger the life of the stanford star his lordship, sir benz...." rahul grinned and got up as muskaan led the way
to where they could wash their hands, while armaan sat folding his arms across his chest like a grumpy kid and said "well the consequences will remain the same if u dont let me eat....
i'll die of hunger instead....." ridhima chuckled and said "aaawww..." as he sat thinking watching her gobble down the food he made a disgusted face, then thought enough now....lets see
how u stop me from eating....aloud he said "fine i give up....if its a choice between dying of no food and bad food, i'd prefer the latter, dont wana die on an empty stomach and ....
OMG whats that????" as ridhima turned to look in the direction he had pointed he swiftly steered ridhima's hand,
which held the next bite she was gona eat, into his own mouth....and looked at her with a victorious and mischievous gleam as she turned back to face him with a glare
....but the look on his face made her smile inevitably and she looked at the plate again making a new bite....while he smiled back lovingly, seeing her dimples and fun filled eyes, and
finishing his bite, bent forward to give her a quick peck on her cheek and said as she turned to look at him, then all around embarresed..."mmmm yummy!!!ur right, i havnt had better
food...but i wonder if its cause of the food or the hand i ate it from...." he grinned, while his eyes had a deep expression, n she couldnt help shaking her head, as she rolled her eyes
heavenwards and muttered..." him n me????what were u thinking god???" which made him grin harder as he steered her hand yet again with the new bite, into his mouth.....

***********

As they moved back towards the car armaan who had been thinking quipped up..."reg, dude why dont u take the car...ridzi wants to take a walk cause she ate like a pig..." as ridhima
turned to face him she was more surprised than irritated by his statement....huh????when did i say that she thought...rahul caught the cue and said "of course dude....muskaan and i
are too tired for a walk now anyways or we would join u..." n before either of the two girls could interrupt, rahul took muskaan's hand and pulled her to the car....as they drove away
armaan moved in front of ridhima's eyes, and bowing down slightly in front of her moved his hand asking for hers by his gesture while looking her in the eye...as she gave it to him after
anticipatory hesitation, he took hold of it and then twirled her round landing his arm around her waist, and she gasped slightly feeling his touch, and glanced up at him he pulled her closer
and without looking at her whispered in her ear...."the lords have their own charming ways...." and looking at her, with a piercing look with raised eyebrows..."shall we???" ridhima looked
back, slightly taken aback and said "are you going to be that formal all the time....n am i expected to respond in kind????" seeing her expression armaan realized it was not a taunt in the
least in fact she was asking him an earnest doubt, he broke out laughing, while ridhima stood innocently puzzled....why was this guy such an enigma....aloud she said "armaaaan um
serious...look um a simple indian girl, i dont know the ways among your royal lot....in fact" she looked up into his eyes, innocently perplexed and continued..."i never thought about it this
way but....i dont even know the first things about u....what u like, what u dont....whats ur favorite food...do u prefer the summer sun or the winter snow...would u pass time watching
a romantic flick or a basketball game....do u prefer blue or pink for girls....would you spend your savings on the latest gadgets or fashionable clothes...."armaan put a finger on her lips....
and said...."hush baby.....slow down...i love homemade food, summer sun without a doubt i like it bright and smiling....basketball for me of course but if u prefer the romantic flicks il put
up with them atleast once every week....leme see what else did u ask....oh yeh pink or blue....hmmmm never thought....but u look breathtaking in brown n gold....n clothes nah not really but not gadgets either
....id rather spend on music...." then pausing, he started to walk at a slow pace taking her along with the hold around her waist and resumed " for your benefit il add...prefer lemonade
to orange juice, cant begin my day without basketball....hate being interrupted when um in the middle of reading a book....sleep with all lights on, headphones plugged into my ears and laptop
running....prefer cycling to swimming, mobikes to cars....strawberry as u already know is my favorite flavor, definitely not coffee" he winked at her saying this and then removing his
arm from around her waist, he held her hand and intertwined his fingers with hers....then continued in a more solemn tone "n um sure i could continue with that list all night and many
more nights perhaps......but none of that defines to u 'the me' i want 'u' to know sweetheart....if i had to introduce the real me....um just a simple guy too....often overshadowed by the facade
of a star, a royal heir.....i have always been mumma's boy....but dad.....hes my best friend.....my family is my world ridhima....."then he looked into her eyes, pausing their stride as she
rest her back leaning against a car in the parking he faced her and slowly
lifting her hand interlocked with his to his lips he kissed it softly and looking at her intensely he said...." n you are a part of it for me now.....ridhima, i know all this lordship stuff can get
anyone worked up....dad says mum was wound up about it too....but i want you to know this honey....i love you....and there's not a thing i would change about you.....although..." he said
with a slight frown forming on his face while she looked back ready to absorb as he sounded like he finally had tips for her, "ur way too short...and ur temper OMG dont get me started....
and i hate physics and ur childhood crush newton...." now a frown was starting to creep into ridhima's face....armaan chuckled a bit and continued coffee cakes will not be allowed in my
house so eat all u want while ur not officially Jr. Lady Benz..." he grinned seeing her trying to camouflage her blush underneath her indignant look....taking the clip off her hair as she got
startled by the sudden action, her tresses let lose fell on her shoulders " hair...not tied pleeeaaassseee," he said with a cheesy grin as she turned a deeper shade of red and tucking
her lose strands behind her ear she lowered her gaze, he smiled with a gleam in his eyes....oh god, i love her so much he thought.....then lifting her face he said " but thats the 'u' which
this 'me' is madly in love with...." as she stared into his hazel eyes, she knew what he meant....she had known this real him for years....the armaan who followed his heart.....n that was
perhaps all she really needed to know....seeing her lost in the moment, he ran the fingers of his free hand through her hair, fixing the stray bangs of hair over her eyes....then pulled her
into a hug....kissed her hair....as she hugged him back he smiled and said in low whisper "by the way ridzi, there's one more thing u should know..as she pulled back n looked at him with
a questioning look he said in a naughty voice " i have to have the left side of the bed always, thats one thing i never compromised with any of my girlfriends" she looked at him, not angry
or jealous, but certainly not feeling good about his past with girls.....as she broke the look, he smiled knowing what she was thinking and said in a cheeky voice " so they always had to
sleep in the guest room...." ridz looked up astonished "huh????u mean...." and she left the obvious at that while he just shrugged his shoulder n said "yeh well none of them was worth
my prized left side of the bed....too bad cause some of them were quite....ummmm...u know like....." n as he chuckled she punched him n said " well i like the left side too...n this time ul
be the one sleeping in the guest room if ur not ready to compromise...."while she said that with with a mock intended look eyes narrowed, he said "ooooohhhh somebodys already dreaming
of......" she shot him a serious look with daggers in her eyes now and he stopped saying "ok ok peace!!!" chuckling again....she spoke " my favorite food is home made too, but i prefer the
snow....i hate cheesy romantic flicks personally so u wont have a hard time with that, but if there is a clash between a cricket game and a basketball game on TV i get to watch cricket
.... black is my absolute favorite....i have to have the latest gadgets in town, as long as u dont stop me from that il leave the music to you....its apple juice for me....
the morning radio show is my wake up alalrm and i prefer an evening jog....ummm....i like to have my room full of pictures....i often sleep working on the laptop with glasses on too....i hate
to be interrupted when cooking in the kitchen....dont know about all other days of the year, but on ur birthday from now il ensure we get a coffee cake..." hearing that armaan slightly yanked
her arm behind her back n gave her a mock warning look while she just reacted with a spontaneous "ouch!..."then looking back with a defiant look continued, "cant stand a messy room
or house....going to have newton n einstein posters on the the walls of the room..." the grinning at his horrified look as he let her lose almost with a 'oh please no' look she grinned and
continued with a thoughtful expression looking in the air "i enjoy staying up on a book all night....lucky ali u might have guessed is my fav indian singer, but i am not stringent about my
music choice as long as it sounds good....dont mind late night outs on weekends as long as no one wakes me up saturday mornings....love to sit beneath the night sky for hours on my
tree swing when...." before she could speak further she found herself in complete shock and then experienced the most wonderful tingling sensation which slowly turned to passion as he
pulled her into a liplock....starting to kiss gently, and then as she responded back, the intensity rose for those blissful never ending moments.....breaking away as she looked sideways
averting his gaze but unable to hide her smile, he brushed his lips close to her cheeks and the close to her ears and said "and u better say ur favorite animated superhero is SUPERMAN....
as she turned back to find him grinning, and remembering their first encounter in stanford, she smiled too...."but cleopatra is likely to fall for a charming pharoh dont u think????" she said
in a teasing tone to which he responded in a suave voice "well its going to be a futile search to find a pharoh whose charms will outdo this english lord smitten by you, my lady...." finishing
with a knightly bow....ridhima giggled and putting her arms around his neck she said "well anyways, you will have to do until my search is over!!!" and gave him a quick peck on his cheek....
ruffling his hair...he pulled her closer, n kissing forehead said in a deep loving voice "all your searches will end at me, as all of mine end at you....love you sweetheart...." while ridhima just
closed her eyes, a content smile on her lips said "hmmmmmm....".....then as he waited, snuggling up to him with several seconds of pause "love u too...."

***************

As chris came and sat besides armaan, by the poolside, he saw the same dazed look on his face, it seemed to have become permanent ever since his return from agra that afternoon...
handing him a can of budwiser, and opening his own he said "so ummmm....we should be having a chat....huh???" armaan said without looking at him "dad i love her....i mean....i love her
is never going to be words enough to say what i feel...." then looking at chris all excited "and she loves me too dad....oh god, dad um so happy....its like....my head n heart wont stay
put anymore....i cant seem to concentrate on anything..." ...."except her" finished chris grinning...."i can see that.....its hard to miss it....ur grandmom asked me 10 times already what
happened to you....."as armaan gave a sheepish look scratching his hair chris continued "actually she tried asking you directly on the dinner table, but apparently you incoming was barred"
now armaan shot him a shocked look and said a bit uncertain "oh no dad....i dont remember that...what did she say...n please say u covered up....." he ended with a pleading look, which
made chris shake with laughter....finally catching back his breath he said " well she asked u how the trip was, u dint respond, then she asked u again to no avail...when she asked u what
happened armaan u kept smiling at ur plate, which was empty ofcourse, and then u got up all of a sudden saying u had eaten too much n needed some sleep, before anybody could ask
what invisible food had filled u up, u walked out...." now armaan shot him a panicked look, "oh no dad.....i did that" slamming his head in his hands he muttered "oh dam..." then shooting up
again "dad please say minnie was not on the table that time...." chris shook his head and said "she was....and she answered on your behalf saying your trip had been an unforgettable
expereince...and grinning like iv never seen her before, n to complete the incident, i told ur grandmum u were like that at times....i told her in a serious tone, trying to cover up,
but i think it backfired, she thinks u might have a mental disorder cause she started muttering prayers like your mum used to when something seemed insanely out of control!!!" armaan
sighed and gave up thinking of the consequences, and then resting his head on his fathers shoulder he said "see what i mean....i love her is not enough to tell u what um feeling..."
as his lips curled into a smile again he whispered "shes amazing dad....cant believe i missed on a girl like her all these years..."

***************


part16 friends thanks for waiting patiently...i tried making it worth the wait....hopefully u will al like it...do leave honest comments....it was a hard part at this time cause i was feeling stressed with my friends trouble....hope i still managed to do somewhat justice to it anyways....enjoy!!!

Edited by spln - 05 June 2008 at 2:29pm

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Posted: 05 June 2008 at 2:25pm | IP Logged
~Part 17~

"ARYAAAAAN...stop it NOW!!!....u know how i hate it when u eat half the strawberries which are meant for the pie...." aryan only grinned sticking his tongue out at ridhima as she chased
him out of the kitchen.....and said " n u know i love eating the raw stuff just cause u hate me doing it frisco...." then looking around to see everybody was busy in something or the other
he added further looking at the one batch of pies already baked and ready to be devoured " by the way....strawberry huh???how come its not the usual choco coffee pudding tonite???"
as she saw him eying her with arched eyebrows and a sly smile she blushed and said "that blabbermouth sister of yours....can never keep things inside can she.....i had to tell you
anyways...but here's the big news....i bet she did not mention about..." ....

At that moment they both got interrupted by padma who ordered as she crossed them "ridhima can u get the door please i heard the bell ring...." as aryan snatched another
handful of strawberries she pushed him away and in the process, her tray with the pie base got knocked off the shelf, and as she made a move to catch it just in time, she bumped into
the bowl of flour which spilled on her black top and fawn shorts....."oh shoot....aryaaan...see what happened now....why cant you just stay out of the kitchen when um cooking???" as
he grinned popping the strawberry into his mouth annoying her further she said remembering the door "atleast go open the door now for me....while i clean the mess u caused...."..aryan
made a move to go then turned back and said "ummmmm on second thoughts....nah...um not doing that, u go open the door, ill clean up here" he said looking at the tempting strawberry pie
while she glared at him then trying to control her anger said in desperation "aryan just look at me, how can i go open the door with half a bag of flour over me????please please please..."
she said in a pleading and endearing voice, while aryan just shook his head stubbornly..."nah me not going....n anyways the whole purpose will be defeated if i open the door...." as she looked
up at him..."he said with a sheepish look trying to cover his tracks "i mean...u know i wana eat up those strawberries while u go open the door so..." she picked up baked pie, and said "ok
fine do what you want but um taking this along...." aryan gave her a funny grin "if you are trying to save it for a special someone, then it might be a bad idea ridzi....dont say i dint warn
u...." she retorted walking away to the door "its safer in my hands than here in the kitchen with u lurking around...." as she tossed her head, he grinned muttering "way to go aryan...ur
too good...hope that prankster sister of atul's has handled her part well..."

ridhima meanwile holding the pie in one hand and trying to shed off the flour with the other, was only worsening
the effect, as the flour spread more, some of it in the strands of her hair which had come lose from the bun and fallen down to her shoulders....she gave up as she reached the door, and
opened it cursing aryan in her head...."MINNIE???" she asked, taken by surprise at this unexpected late call from her sister's in laws....minnie meanwile looked at ridhima's state and
said...."wow ridhima bha....i mean....ridhima...what in the world were u..."then as her eyes fell on the pie, she squealed "oh that...yummy...can i have one???" and without waiting for a
reply she pulled a piece from the tray, much to ridhima's displeasure....gobbling it down she said between mouthfulls "mmmmm dam good...." ridhima decided it was time to ask the obvious
question "so how come you here...i mean at this hour you know....is all good???" minnie nodded, remembering the plan and said...yeh oh i had to give aryan some books he needed
urgently...for a surgery tomorrow...i told him i would bring them over as he said hes busy....ridhima smirked n said "yeh busy eating the strawberries away while i tried to throw him out of
the kitchen....how do u handle him in the hospital minnie....n dont the patients refuse to let him be their doctor???" as ridhima finished in a disgruntled tone minnie replied somewhat
defensive "oh no...he is actually one of the best young doctors in the cardio department....." then as ridhima's expression got questioning she blushed slightly and added "anyways i gotta
go see him..."

ridhima just stared at her back as she looked for aryan..wonder what tone that was...was she defending aryan...hmmmm....so mr. underpants i guess there's
soemthing u have to tell me as well...and as ridhima turned around to shut the door..."AAAAAAAAHHHHH" they both screamed, she scared by the facing a sudden mountain of books,
and armaan as he dropped all the books and they crashed to the floor, when she screamed making him jump out of his skin.....ridhima saved the tray of pie just in time from falling out
of her hands shocked first by the books...then by seeing the person who was holding them...."ARMAAAAN????" she said as he was bent over the books he had dropped trying to collect them
back into a pile and said "yeh thats my name sweetie" ..."but what are you..." minnie interrupted, coming back as she heard the loud scream...."oh sorry ridhima did i forget to mention????
bhai was only to sweet to oblidge me n drive me over and even carry all those books for me...." she said with a sheepish look, then seeing armaan still clearing up the books she added
"bhai could you bring them in once you're....ummmm....done here????" and saying so she left, after grabbing another piece of the pie, and showing ridz a thumbs up, to indicate the pie
was delicious...."why did u not tell me you were coming armaan???" asked ridhima turning back her attention to him, deciding to forget that her pie was already quarter gone....while he
mumbled "honey can u first help me here with...." and as he finally looked up he stopped mid sentence....and within seconds broke out laughing.....while ridhima just sighed miserably...
great she thought....first that jerk arayn....now of all the people it had to be him seeing me like this....why him and me god, she questioned again shooting him a disgusted look as
he continued laughing....finally standing up somehow, controlling himself he said..."wow princess, ur quite a sight...new fashion statement um unaware of????" and he laughed again,
while she just stood, tapping her foot and rolling her eyes, waiting for him to stop....as he finally did she spoke before he could make anymore wisecracks at her "so much for the one u
love....here i am, studying and working out a whole new recepie for u...that too in the eeeewwww strawberry flavor, n look at u....." shoving the pie in his hands she continued
" why do i even bother...?" with that she walked off....

while armaan wide eyed stared at her back...then at the strawberry pie, then back at her "oh man....armaan, dude how lame do u
get...." and grabbing a piece from the pie and thrusting it into his mouth he ran behind her, forgetting the books....blocking her way he said "rid...rdizi...ridhima listen..." as she tried to
dodge him and move ahead..."listen to me princess...." as she glared at him he said..."alright my bad....um sorry....u just...." he stopped trying hard to not giggle again while ridhima just
pushed past him cursing all the guys in the world, aryan and armaan heading the list, in an undertone..." armaan slapped his forehead then putting his fingers on his lips he said speaking to himself "sssshhh
sssshhhh dude stop laughing or she is going to be so mad...." and then ran behind her again, after picking up a new piece from the tray, and leaving the rest behind on a close by table...
"ridhima pleassssee...just listen to me..." he said blocking her again...then before she could retort he shoved the pie into her mouth and said "sssshhhh dont speak...eat that first....i hate
to share my strawberry deserts with anyone, but um doing it right now, only to apologize...um sorry, i was....ummmmm...." as she looked at him, finally managing to gobble down the
huge piece and waiting for him to complete he said "a jerk....did not mean to laugh...and u....look cute..." he said giving her a quick peck on her nose...while she immediately pushed him
away and turned all around in 360 degrees to see if anybody had seen them....as she faced him again angrily he said "what do you think of strawberry deserts now????c'mon u have to
agree they taste awsome.....and that one..." holding her hands and playing with her fingers "was the best i ever had..."he finished looking sincerely in her eyes this time....as her frowns
finally eased away, he continued "thanks...i cant believe u actually made that for me....and um just....anyways...i have something to make up for my crass behavior" she looked at him
in anticipation now n he gave her a thin small wrapped pack in a bag...." as she pulled it out of his hands, he stopped her just in time and said "dont open it just yet....u have the whole night to see
that....right now....just come with me...there is someone you have to talk to....."

as they stood outside him sitting on the bonnet of his car and she just leaning against the drivers window
looking at him as he dialled a number, she wondered who it was....he snapped his phone shut, third time...."why dont u answer the call????" talking to his phone while ridhima said "who u
calling???reg???n that reminds me where is he????" to which armaan replied still trying the number he was dialing "oh muskaan told him not to come....she wants to ...." ..."WHAAAT???"
sdhe yelled as he balanced himself just in time to prevent a fall from the bonnet in shock..."easy girl....thas second time u yelled and shocked me out of my wits...thrid tme i swear i wont
survive the threatening stroke...." while she said "cut all that...muskaan knew u were coming???" then remembering aryan's wods when she had asked him to open the door
she spoke further, putting two n two together "hang on...so did arayn,....n i guess minnie too...n reg n u of course...." then looking at his impishe grin she said her voice agitated"
"you all were on the plan....except me?????even you did not bother calling n letting me into the secret???" and she looked away frowning and pouting her lips at being the only one left
out.....while he grinned at her childlike tantrum and putting his arm around her shoulder he pulled her closer, as she looked about getting conscious, and he kissed her cheek passionately
as she blushed profusely, while trying hard now to get free her look scanning all over for any prying eyes, he whispered "wanted to surprise u sweetheart!!!" she looked back at him
hearing his low seductive drawl, and saw him look back with a intense loving gaze...

a few moments later, their eyelock was broken by the ring of the cell....and armaan unwillingly made
himself remove his eyes from her face, seeing the caller, he flipped it open and said "finally where were you dad, been calling you for the past 10minutes...." while ridhima's head shot up
...DAD????was he going to get her to talk to his dad....no no no, armaaaan, she thought, how can i....????and she heard him say "oh ok yeh i know grandmum never lets me get off the
dinner table either...hahahaha....yeh shes here dad, with me hang on...." as he passed her the phone, she gave him a 'ur kidding me, right???' look....while he mouthed a NO and pushed
the cell into her hand....she continued giving him a pleading look and acting out for him to tell his dad that someone called her and she went in....armaan gave her a stern look and shook
his head, indicating her to talk...while she folded her hands and whispered, covering the phone "please armaan...how can i just talk like that....what will he think and what if....please
just tell him i am not here..." armaan shrugged and taking the phone back said "dad ridhima is saying that she doesnt want to ..." she snatched the hand out of his hand glaring at him while he grinned
back seeing his trick worked as she stammered into the phone "h..h...hello...ummmm...." chris on the other side realized that armaan had beckoned her to the phone without prior warning
and realized how nervous that might have made her so he said, trying to make it as easy for her as possible "hello young lady! so this jerk i believe put u through to me without a hint..."
ridhima relaxed slightly hearing his tone and the word 'jerk'...it was not going to be that hard perhaps she thought....and answered " yes sir, he did...." chris chuckled on the other
side and replied "ok rule no.1, its chris or dad whichever u prefer...., " ridhima smiled, " and rule no.2 i have no idea what a wonderful cultured lady like youself saw in my hopeless son, but
since his luck seems to have played in his favor as he tells me, u better keep him under control or he is not going to be a fun guy to live your life with...." ridhima now giggled blushing
slightly armaan drew her attention to him, asking by acting out what they were talking about, she made a face at him and got her attention back to the call...speaking into the phone
she said "got u dad..."surprised at how easy it was to call him dad, smiling deeply as he resumed " alright thats all set then....but there is something i absolutely
have to tell you....i never quite picked up from my wife the best ways to welcome an indian girl into the family, but if you overlook that clumsiness, i want you to know how special you
are to me...i always wanted a daughter, but had to do with this mumma's boy....now that you are coming i think its time i avenge the many years he sided up with his mum against me..."
as he paused, ridhima knew, how hard it must be for him to mention armaan's mom, and how he must have managed the hard years without her...and also how hard he was trying
right then to make her, ridhima feel like family...she spoke into the phone effortlessly with the same warmth which she felt towards her own parents, "we are always team dad...." then
in a more solemn voice "thank you so much" to which chris replied smiling "no riddeeema i should be the one saying that....he really cares about you....and i have wondered all these years
if i would live to see the day when he cared for a girl like this....but ever since he got back from the trip, hes been....well i guess you should hear the story from him, or minnie better still
.....um just....well um going to hurry up and talk to your parents soon....welcome to the benz!!!" ridhima blushed overjoyed, not knowing what to say, just said in a tiny voice "i will
give the phone to armaan, dad" chris interrupted..."nah, dont do that or he will come back and complain about how much of his time i wasted on the call when he could be talking to you...
see you tomorrow riddeeema, good night!" as she shut the phone still smiling, armaan held her from her shoulders and asked in excited anticipation..."well????" ridhima looked at him
with the same excitement but then deciding to tease him she said "he was mentioning some story i should ask you to narrate, about what happened after we got back from the trip???"
armaan turned red, and looking ahead said "oh nothing just....dad just says anything at random....nothing at all...." ridhima knew from his look that she just had to know what this story was now,
so she pained him further "um not asking you armaan dad said it would be best if i asked minnie..." as she made to move away he held her back...."changed my mind sweetheart il tell you
myself" and she grinned turning around to see his rare embaressed look...!!!

**************

as she opened the wrap, she saw a CD...the cover said "U, Me and Taj...and so it all began..."....she opened and played the CD in her player....there wasnt a video in it, just the audio
but as the song played, she closed her eyes mesmerized...and she could see the whole of the scene from last night vivdly...his voice had that effect, as he sang the same song, with
the guitar this time.....she opened her eyes as the song came to an end and she heard him speak...."hey honey....i just wanted you to have something from our special night...something
that would let you relive the moments....its a night which i never wish should fade away in our memories...and i thought this might be a good way to keep it alive and vivid....hope you like it.....by the way...i know
you asked for a ring, i havent forgotten, but for now just look in the packet, there is something else....its a family heirloom....mum would have given it but....well...hope you like it...
love you sweetheart...." ridhima shook the bag, and indeed out came a tiny pouch, it had been so well fastened that it escaped her when she got the CD out....as she opened it, she
found inside a ruby and diamond studded broach...it was just beautiful....a small flower, with an intricate pattern....she clutched it tightly in her hands, then as her smile deepened,
she opened her palm again, and it was still there....no wishful thinking its all real, she told herself, excited beyond containment level, dad is going to ask dad...shaking her head laughing
she edited slightly, dad will ask pa for our wedding....OMG...is this really coming true????"

as she continued smiling she was knocked out of her thoughts "undoubtedly the thoughts are
owned by the charms of the english lord we all know about am i right????" she jerked up and seeing it was aryan sighed in relief, and quipped "indeed you are right.....but tell me how right
i am in thinking that the heart of my charming lord's sister belongs to you?????" aryan looked baffled and ridhima continued grinning as his eyes widened "gotcha! mr. underpants!!u really
thought i was going to miss that one???" arayn walked towards her and sat down besides her on the bed...."no i knew it was but a matter of time....but i was faster u have to admit frisco..."
he said in a cheeky tone having regained his wits.....ridhima nodded....for once she was so happy that she did not think anything could pester her ....aloud she said "just like we always
thought aryan....my knight...n your sweetheart...."....as they continued gazing dreamily into the air, shashank who was crossing by stopped seeing their smiles, he was going to move on shaking his head
when aryans next words caught his attention..."guess its time you and i talk to our parents...." curious to know what, shashank saw ridhima nod her head in agreement as she said "yeh its
time we talk about the marriage we dreamt of for so many years...." and they both pulled each other into a hug, their happiness boundless.....life looked more beautiful than it ever before had....
but they were not the only ones....

Shashank hurried to find padma, finally spotting her with some relatives he excused them both and pulled her aside...."padma guess what???" he said more excited than padma could ever
imagine having seen him....she just looked at him, waiting for him to explain, he hugged her and said "um so happy for our kids padma..." she pulled out of the hug now, and felt his forehead
his neck until he pulled her hand off and said "ridhima and aryan padma....they love each other!!!" now she broke into a sparkling smile..."are u serious????" then getting solemn she added
"look shashank i know ur father and aryans grand dad had wanted matrimonial relations between our families, and we had thought of anjali and arayn for years, considering they are both
doctors too....but then when anjali mentioned atul, i know u were taken aback, but um proud of you for having stood by her happiness...now ridhima and aryan...i mean they have been
best friends all their lives...but....are you sure????"shashank nodded his head in affirmative "absolutely padma, i just heard them talk in ridhima's room..." as she shot him a reproachful
glance "no i was not eavesdropping honey, i just happened to be crossing the room when they were discussing talking to us and the aryans parents...."

at that moment their attention was
caught by a scream "FRISCO!!! u wil never be able to catch me....c'mon girl get me if you want this back..." and he ran down the stairs with ridhima close behind yelling "aryan dont blame
me if you die a bachelor....gime that broach back or you are so dead...." as they aryan saw padma and shashank he ducked behind padma and said...."please please save me from your
monstrous daughter aunty....god knows how many years i will have to bear her...." padma smiled hearing those words as shashank gave her a 'told-u-so' look....while ridhima said "no mum
you better dont side up with this freak...GIVE THAT BACK TO ME ARYAN" she bellowed while padma hushed them down and said..."before u both continue your endless fights i want to ask
you something, u promise me to be honest" they both forgot about the fight, momentarily hearing padma's tone....she continued glad to have their attention as they said together
"yeh we promise"..."shashank happened to over hear your concersation a few minutes back" hearing those word they both jerked up, looking wide eyed at each other and then as they
were about to explain padma said "we are happy with whatever our kids decide...just want to hear it from you myself...are you both ready for marriage...." while aryan scratched his
head looking down, almost red ridhima just blushed and hugged her mother saying "um so happy u support us mum....while aryan hugged her from behind and said "you are the best!!!!"
and they both winked at each other, an exchange which made the observant shashank smile......

**************

~Part 18~

"who is he talking to???he should flush the cell if he is never going to answer my call when i so need to talk to him.,...c'mon armaan..." but as she dialled for what seemed to be the umpteenth
time the operator still said "the number you are trying to reach is currently busy, please try again later..."...shoot! she thought, why busy now of all the times....and then as she paced the
room to and from she knocked her toes against the edge of the bed..."OUCH!!" and throwing the phone on the bed she held onto her toe falling down on the carpet...."oh boy! now this....
wonderful...well i should have known a news like this, has to be followed by disasters" she muttered sarcastically....blowing onto her toe, and rubbing it....where are u armaan she thought, then smiling
about the news she had to give him, and frowning simultaneously to not be able to do so immediately....
and then her phone rang she grabbed it from the bed, forgetting her toe and caller's
ID made her flash a bright smile.. flipping it open she spoke, same time as him..."why was your phone engaged so long honey????" and they both burst out laughing....and then within moments
armaan quipped up "oh so u were trying to call me too, thats why....hmmmm thank god...so why were you calling me????" he said the last part in mock innocence with a naughty smile
on his face continued "missing me sweetheart???" hearing his cheeky voice she retorted "well actually i had a surprise news for you....but before that.....do i smell smoke????somebody
was getting jealous thinking why my phone was engaged huh????thank god and all that...." and as she giggled, it made armaan smile on the other end, not replying....he had not been jealous
but he was wondering who it could be for so long....as he did not reply ridhima said cheeky as ever "ok ok silence is equivalent to confession, now we know who was missing who!!!!" armaan
shook his head still smiling and said "yeh well, cant deny i was missing you....but tell me now why you were calling???did i too get lucky to be missed by my gorgeous girl????" he asked expectantly
ridhima replied blushing at his compliment "hhhmmmm well yeh a bit maybe....but mostly i was having fun with aryan...." ...."oh ok i see, " said armaan in a small voice, chuckling inside knowing this was perfect emotinal
blackmail...if she thought she could tease him with aryan's name he would play his way.....ridhima did feel guilty hearing his voice and said in a more loving voice "but guess what happened then ....actually no
thats the surprise....only in the end....you just called generally???" armaan remembered why he had called and said "oh actually...i was just....well did u like the gifts???" ridhima smiled,
getting the broach out of her pocket, she clutched it tight again thinking how did i forget to tell him myself how much i liked it....just the excitement of this news i guess....and armaan
who had expected her to mention it herself, and now not getting a reply said"ridhima???u there baby ????didnt you like it????" ridhima felt choked with happiness hearing his concern in the
nervous question.....she loved him like crazy, and she felt like a princess when he cared so much.....finally she said "i loved it armaan....cant even begin to tell in words how much....i just..
sorry i had thought the next time i talked to you i'd tell you how special the gift was to me....but this.....anyways....armaan....dont know how to say this....i just...love u so much
honey"
he smiled now, relaxed, then suddenly quipped up "your turn....whats
the surprise tell me now???" ridhima, was about to speak up, but then thought, maybe i should tell him tomorrow, with a surprise gift too....yeh good idea girl, aloud she said "i changed my
mind....tell you at the mehendi tomorrow....it's aryan n my big top secret!!!" armaan frowned....aryan and ridhima????hmmm could it be a plot they had for minnie and him, atul had
mentioned all that girl's side vs boys side thing....yeh that must be it, smiling now he said "ok....tomorrow it is then....we will make sure we are prepared for your surprise!!!" then he added
"oh and ridhima....i finally pestered dad enough for him to spill the beans...." then in a sofetr voice he continued "wow ridzi...dad gona talk about us tomorrow and then....this is all so...."
ridhima interrupted wanting to be the first to break the news to him before chris learnt it from her parents..."no no no armaan tell dad to not talk till i break the surprise to you???
pleasssse???" armaan scratched his head and wondered...now how is a prank connected to dad
talking about our wedding...aloud he said in a puzzled voice "honey i dont get you at all now...what is happening, and why do want to delay dad talking to your mum dad for a
surprise news u and aryan have to give....i mean i dont see the link and ..." ridhima interrupted again "time out sweetheart...." then smiling and kissing the broach in her hands "all in its
good time!!!!" realizing armaan was not going to give up asking questions she spoke before he could "ok very late now, di calling me, gotta run....good night, love u honey" and with that
as she kissed the phone before cutting the call, armaan smiled again, forgetting his confusion, and kissing his phone back he muttered..."love u too!"

*************

"MY BELOVED FOREVER,
I thought that you would like to know
That someone's thoughts go where you go
Than someone never can forget
The hours we spent since first we met
That life is richer, sweeter far
For such a sweetheart as you are
And now my constant prayer will be
That God will keep you safe for me....."

reading the words she looked at the completed job, the paintbrush in her mouth, and colors all over her shirt....not bad ridzi, she thought with a satisfied smile, the painted Taj as a watermark
in the backdrop, looked so close to the way it had the previous night, she did not need to be facing it for real for that image, it was like a photograph her mind had captured and stored
forever....and over the watermark were painted in black, the words she finished reading, in what she thought was perfect calligraphic letter...well that was perhaps her closest attempt
at being perfect in the combination of arts she had learnt during her years of undergrad.....aryan will be pleased i finally proved my worth as his student in creative arts....
"but the question here is not about aryan....will armaan like it too???" she whispered to herself deeply perplexed....then re reading the prose, she further wondered if it wasnt way too
simple and short....but that was typically her...she liked working out straightforward prose for all occasions in her life, her journal was full of them....
besides she could not think of any bigger elaborate words which could portray her chain of thoughts with such sheer finesse and accuracy.... she shrugged and sighed simultaneously,
she had thought for almost an hour, until this idea had struck her, n at that moment of a chance spark, she had thought it would be a wonderful gift to give him...n as she looked at it now
she could not disagree even in all modesty that it was a decent job, but what if armaan did not think of it the same way???maybe i should have bought something for him...she thought
but then she shook her head and said "actually, this had to be it.....it may not be the greatest gift he ever got....but its something only i can give and only to him....like one of 'our things',
not his or mine....oh i hope he likes it....then as she massaged her strained neck from hours of standing at the canvas, her eyes fell on the wall clock.."oh shoot!
6 AM????great....forget sleeping now ridzi..." looking at the painting again, as she dropped its rice paper cover over it she thought again, he has to like it....please armaan, say u will...i
really want it to be as special for u as your gift is for me.....

************

As his eyes finally found her, having searched for her from the moment he had entered, he stood transfixed....how does she do this he wondered....captivate him totally, with no effort at
all....just that plain jane look....rugged jeans, and a simple green tee, which seemed to enhance the color of her emerald eyes....her hair meant to be held in a bun were losening from ends,
oh why did she tie them, those beautiful tresses, he thought with a slight frown, but the very next second it turned
to a smile, watching her trying to jerk the strands falling over her face by shaking her head sideways, as that did not seem to help much, she scrunched her eyes
and frowned slightly blowing upwards to push away the flicks bothering her eyes, it was then that he realized that she was getting her hands done with that...ummm...traditional indian
thing whatever it was called....and now she seemed to be searching for someone, looking around, her expression that of slight agitation....and then after not finding whoever it was she was
searching for she tried yet again to blow away her soft strands, more of which seemed to breaking free now....he grinned, ruffling his own hair....and then walked towards
her...as he closed in, she was trying to push her hair back with her shoulder, but in this last desperate attempt she somehow knocked the clip, as her hair fell free totally..."great, thats just
what i need" he heard her say...."yup they are perfect now...." her head shot up as she heard his voice, he was in creme and rust combination today then as her eyes went back to his face
she saw his amused smile and knew he had realized that she thought he was looking amazing....she sighed and smiled, then said...."hi armaan....you look great....." then frowning
a bit again "n my hair perfect????yeh right...they are being such a painful mess and i cant find anyone with their hands not...."
he interrupted "need some help???" and he flashed his endearing dimples ....she nodded slowly without thinking much of what he
had asked, and he said smiling deeper, moving closer "let me try fix them for u...." and as he picked up the clip that had fallen,
the girl putting mehendi moved aside making space, and he moved in closer still, encircling his arms around her head, and as he gathered all her hair together, his hands brushed against
the nape of her neck....at his touch she instantly gasped slightly and lowered her gaze, then held her breath as if to lock inside the whif of his cologne, and finally shut her eyes with the
effort of pushing all these sensations away....and as his hand inevitably brushed against her skin again, she opened her eyes and looked at him, his face so close, while he was engrossed
with the task at hand n had not noticed her series of reactions.....not being an obvious expert with long hair he asked "ridzi, i think i securely got all your hair, but what do i do with them
now???"...not getting a reply he moved backwards slightly and found her staring at him, smiling he said "ridzi???" then raising his eyebrows in
mischief he whispered "honey, much as i hate to interrupt you, this doesnt appear to be the best of times and places to be checking me out...." his words finally jerked her out of
the reverie and she shot a conscious look around and then finally met his gaze blushing deeply, as he grinned at her, she hissed " armaaan!! " as he returned a questioning look
she added looking down at her hands...."can u hurry up with my hair please????" he grinned at her attempt to get him away from her and said "i would sweetheart, if you tell me what
to do next....." ridhima looked at him again, it was a genuine question, even though his smile was naughty, she couldnt help smiling for real now, forgetting how close they were and
said "well just wound them and pin them with the clip...simple"....as he tried following her instructions he knew he could never take her word again for what she thought was 'simple'.....
"how do you handle this ridzi, i cant get them to go into the clip, they just...." he looked back at her with defeated frustration after struggling for a few minutes....and made ridhima laugh
out loud, moments later he broke out laughing too, until they were both interrupted by minnie...."share the joke guys..." they looked at her and she continued with a teasing sparkle in
her eyes "unless its censored...." as armaan chuckled giving minnie a hi five ridhima blushed, then to change the topic she said "minnie can u please do my hair, like really tight, since u
still dont have the mehendi done...." then sparing armaan a glance she added "mr. superman here unfortunately finds hair styling much harder than fighting bad guys with guns mid air"
minnie giggled and asked "superman???" then taking the clip from armaan she gathered and fixed ridhima's hair within seconds while a now incredulous armaan said "hey wait, how did u
do that again???" making both the girls laugh....n now they were joined by aryan...."the party gang enjoying without their superhero..." and that made ridhima and minnie laugh harder,
in between giggling minnie managed to say "another superhero!!!!" while he shot armaan a quizzical look which asked if the girls were still sane???armaan shook his head in a sad way
indicating the worse.....so aryan, now resting his arm over ridhima's shoulder as he stood next to her said facing armaan and minnie "so frisco, u finally lost it huh???guess last nights
events played a pivotal role..." he finished off winking at her....armaan and minnie exchanged a comprehending look, they had discussed before coming the possibilities of what they
could expect from the team of these two...ridhima nodded in consent looking at armaan..."last night's events indeed" and then smiling back at aryan..."how can i forget them???"....
padma who was crossing at that moment, stopped by, and seeing arayn and ridhima smiling at each smiled herself....as armaan noticed her before the rest, he let out a low whistle
which caught her attention immediately, and that of the other three as well..."WOW PM....u look mindblowing...." as ridhima rolled her eyes padma looked at armaan with an 'oh really'
look and he continued "will you oblidge me with a dance tonight???"....now she pulled his ear and said "shouldnt you be finding someone your age young man, um sure there wil be lots
to oblidge you..." while ridhima prayed silently for padma to not mention the previous night's conversation to armaan before her, he chuckled replying "i will take that as a compliment PM,
and my age hmmmm lets see....perhaps if you find me someone....just like you????"...padma, ruffling armaan's hair said in a loving voice "when u tell me the name of
this special someone like me, i will ensure you become her someone special too...." saying so she looked at aryan and ridhima and added "there is a surprise for you both....
and ridhima beta dont forget to get the 'A' in your mehendi "with that and another warm smile at aryan and ridhima she walked
off, while ridhima blushed profusely...then thought surprise???for aryan and me....could it be about....WOW!!!!she couldnt think of anything else which
had made her life a dream come true like this ever before.....while aryan and minnie chimmed in together "OOOOHHHHH 'A' in the mehendi huh!!!!" and as armaan gave them a confused
look aryan urged her to explain, she spoke a bit hesitantly "well girls have to get in their mehendi the initial of...ummm the name of the...the..." ...."one you love" completed aryan grinning at
her....and armaan, after understanding what they meant, smiled gazing at her.....not wondering for a moment how padma could have asked her to get an 'A'.....

*************

"muski, finally sweetie, where have you been, i keep losing sight of you, at the pace you are moving around" said reg pulling muskaan to one side, a little away from the blasting music in
the hall as the dancing took over the centre stage and the lights dimmed out in the rest of the hall....but he was shocked to see the look on her face....he couldnt remember when he had
seen her so tensed before, he let go of her hand immediately thinking she was worried of someone spotting them and said "oh sorry i forgot you still have to tell...."muskaan interrupted
in a hysterical voice gripping his hand extrememly tight "reg, there's a big problem....i dont know what happened, but there is a misunderstanding....i just heard mum dad talk to shashank
uncle and padma aunty...about riddhima and aryan...." and as she poured out the whole conversation she had happened to over hear as she wandered looking for padma cause atul's mum
wanted to talk to her......rahul's eyes widened with each passing statement.."oh dam" he said hoarsely as she finished "let's hurry up and look for them before the parents implement their...."
he left it at that rushing with muskaan and praying in his head desperately, please please please God dont let us be late....we must stop this before......no no no reg, ul stop it relax...where
are u bro????

**************

"what do you think of it aryan???" as he finished reading the last line he looked up at her with a warm smile and said "muskaan said it was amazing but i think she understated facts frisco
....you beat all your past records, which were not exactly low...."...."so u think armaan will like it???" she asked in anticipation???aryan looked at her earnest expression...he was so happy
for her....armaan was perfect....and they both loved each other so much....he remembered armaan calling him from agra to tell him about their confession, incidentally ridhima still thought
it was muskaan who had told him about it, cause somehow he had not had a chance to mention it to her yet....muskaan....she was being weird these days too, he was certain there was
something she had to tell him n had not been able to yet...he came back to the present as ridhima urged again "aryaaan????" and he said with a smile "he will love it ridzi....its the prefect
surprise...." ...."SURPRISE???" they were interrupted by armaan, and aryan quickly hid the framed creation behind him, as ridhima stood zapped not knowing what to say....armaan repeated looking
at them "what surprise????" aryan finally finding his tongue said "surprise...ummm gift..." as ridhima stared at him he resumed "surprise gift for me....ummmm ridhima wanted to give me
something for....for ...." then laughing a bit uncertainly he said, without knowing much of what he was going to say "well u know, shes always such a pest, and um always by her side, so she
realized she had to give me a token expressing her real...ummm real feelings...." he giggled trying to sound convincing and added "silly girl...i know um special to her...she did not have to...."
and he shrugged looking at armaan intently wondering if he was convinced, while ridhima nodded her head vigorously "yeh...ummm....just thought i havent got him anything in ages so...."
unexpectedly armaan smiled at them shaking his head and giving ridhima a slight peck on her cheek which went unnoticed by everyone around since the lights in the hall were now dim,
except for the dance floor in the centre and said in a soft voice "thats so thoughtful of you sweetheart" then looking at aryan he said "so what is it, can i have a look???" "NO" they both
bellowed....seeing armaan's shocked look, ridhima sighed and decided she could not wait anymore for the right moment when it was just her and him, and had to tell him...she started "actually
the truth is this was the surprise i was mentioning about last night and ......" they were interrupted by shashank's voice on the mike....as three of them turned to look at him....they saw
he was flanked on one side by padma and on the other side by aryan's parents....armaan looked at the two of them, a they looked at each other...shashank spoke "good evening everyone!
we hate to be interrupting the dance and music...but there's an anooucement we want to make...tonite is special...not just cause it anjali's mehendi night...but also for our other daughter
ridhima....now aryan's dad Gaurav took the mike...."and my son arayn...." padma with aryan's mother swati moved towards where ridhima and aryan stood and holding their hands pulled
them gently to join them on the stage, as shashank continued..."only last night we found out their secret...." now ridhima blushed, smiling at armaan, who loked back, quite confused
and as arayn's eyes settled on the face he was searching, smiling to see her anticipatory smile gaurav continued " and we could not have been happier about it....so we decided it was time
to announce their engagement..." both ridhima and aryan jerked to look back at their parents now....wait...what????their engagement...wow this was quick...and shashank standing
between them and holding them both in a hug said " to finally turn these inseperable friends into inseperable life partners " as aryan and ridhima now looked shocked, slowly comprehending
the real meaning of his words gaurav said raising a toast "to ridhima and aryan...."......and as an applause broke al around, 7 pairs of eyes, showed complete shock, the last line still not
sinking in....at differnet corners of the room....ridhima and aryan on the stage...rahul and muskaan looking at each other helplessly....minnie, feeling her eyes beginning to water moved out
of the crowd, and as a worried chris looked around fro armaan, he spotted him in a corner, his eyes glued to a something, he started weaving his way through the crowd all of whom were
moving towards the stage for obvious reasons....armaan meanwile emotionles for many long seconds, had turned around to go out for fresh air where he could think, when his eyes fell on
a frame....he realized with a start it was what aryan had held behind his back....in the dim lights, the black words shone bright, glaring at him over a light pastel background which he could
not quite make out....as he read the words, the past 20 minutes came crashing back...the converstaion with aryan and ridhima...then the announcement....he felt his eyes burn with threatning
tears and his head felt ready to burst open, he moved hastily making his way through the crowd, just seconds before chris reached the spot.....

***************

~Part 19~

She did not know how, but somehow pushing her way through the throng of people who seemed to have nothing better to do than to block her way and congratulate her when her heart
seemed to be losing its beats, she reached the spot where he had been minutes ago, but not anymore....she looked around desperately, and saw the last fleeting glipmse of chris....on an
instinct she followed him.....she reached outside finally only to find a grim faced chris, talking into the phone frantically "armaan listen to me...just go back home, i dont want u driving to
any bar do u understand me???armaan????"

now next to him , she saw him shut his phone in frustration, and as he turned around to see her, she rambled breathlessly something close to
speech "dad...that engagement...i dint....misundertsnading....armaan...i...i mean him n me...aryan is not....." chris silenced her by gripping her shoulders "hush riddeeema...dont speak...
u arent doing a good job anyways..i dont have much time i must find armaan but before i go i want to know something, just answer in yes or no....was this engagement by your consent???"
she shook her head as hard as she could..."then aryan's consent????" she shook her head violently again saying "he....minnie...i mean" he hushed her again "quiet riddeeema dont speak
honey....its ok....you love armaan??" she nodded her head finally breaking into sobs and trying to explain again "dad....its not....i dint know....." he pulled her into a hug, and patting her
back tried to calm her now incessant sobbing while whispering reassuringly "i know, i just wanted to hear from you to make sure....dont worry leave it to me...but i have to go find him
now...." as he finally pulled her out of the hug, she was still crying, but her sobs had lessened....and as he gave her a final pat on her head before making a move, she held him by his
arm and said, a little more coherently, "dad can i....come along...armaan...please" he said in a consoling yet firm voice "not right now dear...
bad idea for u to be missing from here....and armaan....trust me....right now is not a good time....let me handle this....i promise to get him to talk to you very soon....." with that he removed
her grip from his arm, as she reluctantly let him go....as he was moving rahul rushed to the scene, muskaan following in close suit...."i am coming along...." and he took the keys from
chris, and chris did not object, reg would be a better person to drive chris needed to think, and and after him, reg was the next person who could help fix things....


she stood there, with silent tears flowing down her face, for several minutes after his car disappeared from the scene....until muskaan who had held her without her realizing finally spoke
"we have to go bak inside ridzi" and saying so she wiped her tears and hugged her hard..."will he understand me muski???"...muskaan sighed, "yes he will ridz, he loves you and he will..."
and crossing her fingers she hoped she could feel half as convinced about it as she wanted ridhima to feel....she remembered rahul's words as she had narrated to him the engagement
conversation she over heard....

~flashback~

"muskaan this is going to get out of hands.....armaan has been emotionally insecure ever since his mum's death....he was just so drowned in those few months of
shock, that after he recovered, well he never did completely, he just lived like two different people....outside he was the same guy we had all known from high school...
our AMMY, even though he dropped that name....
but he has never allowed anyone to come close to him emotionally ever since....he has this deep inner fear that if he loves someone as deeply as he tends to, then he will
lose them too, and he doesnt think he can survive it a second time.....infact i would have never realized this, such perfection he displays in the mask of an indifferent supershot, but we had
this basketball bash, after our season championship victory in freshman year, when we all got him drunk, and then in his inebriated state he got more real,
would not let any girl within inches of himself....its so
unlike him, he is usually such a gentleman even with his crazy fans....never refuses a dance, neither gives up a chance to display his charms....but not that evening, he grew greatly
aloof as the drinks took on him, and when i finally confronted him with the obvious question about what was with him that night, he blabbered it all out...."

rahul paused, and sighing
deeply he frowned and continued "i have no idea what connection he feels with ridhima....but believe me, i havent seen this armaan once in the years that followed his mother's death
....its like a sudden transformation that took place in his life, i have seen the difference grow on him like an addiction in such a short time,
he loves her unconditionally, i have no idea what made him shed off his sky high guard, but he seemed to
have entertained no second thoughts about his love for her, it just came, n he let it happen to him...."

then rahul took another pause this time frowning much more as he resumed in a grave tone
"but this announcement....we have to stop it honey, he wont be able to handle it.....dont know what made it happen, but he just put that blind faith in his love for her....let's hurry muski
the last thing we need is him thinking ridhima's love is sheer pretense.....he will not take it well in any circumstances, cause i dont see him thinking logically, he seems to have left
his so called logic out of his relationship with ridhima...its just him n his heart, no longer his constraining mind...".....

~flasback ends~

shoving her thoughts aside, muskaan finally helped a distraught ridhima to appear slightly more presentable, though one look at her eyes, would give them away even to a stranger
....she took her back in from the back door, trying to avoid the crowd....il just put her to bed and give her sleeping pills or else she is just not going to stay back long....n then....
bhai....wonder how he's taking it....not as hard as ridhima i guess....i gotta go find him too....

As muskaan handed her pills with water she looked up in a protesting way...."they are just headache pills ridz....uv cried so much, i know ur sinus going to wreck ur nerves now
if u dont take those....and please dont cry anymore or um scared of the onset of your monstrous cold as well....and its anji's wedding in two days.....we cant be selfish enough
to spoil that for her....." it worked, specially the last line just as muskaan had thought, ridhima took the pills, with her mehendi filled hands, mehendi which was dry now, n
flakes of it chipping off at places, and she took the pills.....but as muskaan left, she started a frantic search for her cell, as soon as she found she grabbed it n dialled his number
the operator on th phone did not surprise her, only deepened her distress...switched off as expected....she paced the room....thinking of what she could do....she couldnt just
couldnt stay back n sleep when he was....God only knew where....then she remembered...chris...oh yeh n she dialled his number...this time the operator did surprise her,
deepening her helplessness...now why was his phone out of reach....where could they be????she had to leave the house...and she could not tell anyone....and now would be easy
since all the guests were beginning to leave, easy to mingle in the crowd.....

*************

"ITS HIS CALL, thank heavens..." and rahul flipped open his phone, sliding the car of the main lane into the exit dirtway...."where have you been ammy, we looked over all
the bars in town three times already...." after a few seconds of pause he heard armaan speak, his voice was unexpectedly completely sane, not a drunken slur, but...its seemed
to be coming hoarsely, with an effort..."reg, can u get dad to call me, i cant get through to him....n i am nor at any bar, neither drunk...."

before he could speak any further,
chris snatched the phone out of his hands...."where are u armaan???u have had me out of my mind for the past 5 hours....and this is ....".."dad...." his tone stopped chris from
further speech....and armaan continued..."um sorry dad....i know it was insane to drive away like that, n switch off the cell....um really sorry....sometimes i think i dont
deserve a father like you....."he sighed heavily and chris began "no armaan dont be..." but he was interrupted "dad please....i called to tell you that i drove out of the city,
without realizing....but after 4 hours of driving...i just....dont know what finally hit me....but....dad i am really sorry, but i did listen to you, atleast partially, um not drunk at all
but i just could not get myself to drive back home....but i was wrong....it cant always be about me, my life, my needs, my whims...."

pausing he said in a slight bitter tone
"someone once told me there are two of us in this relationship...." then he paused again, with concerted effort to remove that trace of bitterness,
no armaan not with dad he told himself metally.....and he continued "n dad i realized between u and me, it was always you making it happen....um sorry dad...i will never do this again
....and um driving back home now...dont worry its non traffic early morning hours and i finally figured out the route back so i wont be meandering all over delhi and its suburbs,
i should back in less tha 2 hours...."

chris wanted to talk about ridhima, but he knew if had waited these long strainfull hours, two more would have to wait....armaan's voice and
words assured him he would get back home alright....well, not mentally alright...he could not mistake that tone, it was new from armaan, but chris could not mistake it....he had
used the same, the initial few months after he lost his beloved, with armaan, knowing he would have to brave it for the two of them alone, and pull his son through....its was the tone
of quiet resolve to mask your misery when you knew there was someone else too, who needed you more than ever....his felt heart wrenched thinking of how and what must have
caused armaan to mature so suddenly in those few hours....but he was nuturing the gloom for the wrong fact.....a complete misunderstanding....for the life of him chris could not
see what had brought about the confusion, but if he had been internally convinced that the announcement was a mistake, ridhima's words, reaction and answers to his questions
had cemented his belief....just two more hours armaan....and i wlll sort out this mess...i promised her, and i promise you....rahul said in a low tone hating to interrupt what he was
sure had been an important chian of thoughts in chris's mind..."where do you want me drive now uncle????"..."just drive back home, armaan is coming there soon..." without a
word rahul steered away, thanking whatever was responsible to have kept his friend safe, and chris seeing his quiet expression said "thanx reg! u are a true friend....armaan is a
lucky guy, a friend like you, and a girl like ridhima...." as rahul looked up astonished chris said "yeh i believe she was as shocked by the events as we were.... we have to find out soon
how this happened...." rahul said in a guilty voice "muskaan n i tried to stop it, but we failed...." and he narrated the part known to him, which still did not answer the big question...,
HOW HAD ALL THIS HAPPENED????

***************

cutting the call armaan sat inside his car, thinking a
few moments...he had acted insane.....how could he just drive off like that....dad must have been crazy with worry....and he would
have continued doing so, his mind was such a blur, nothing happening just a frenzy.....but after over 3 hours of driving in the cold air his head started clearing....
and her words came ringing in his head...'love you so much armaan'....'first time in love...'....'we dont perceive and value love the same way...'...and he had
brought his car to a screeching halt skidding off into a sideway....indeed they did not preceive it the same way....he thought livid with anger jamming his fist into the car steering
.....

' my beloved forever'....aryan and her....she could have just told him that before.....he would have been broken, but atleast not felt cheated and ripped apart and used and....
he could not think of what or why he could have deserved this....he looked up thinking 'u made it all happen so perfectly...my realization...the taj
and the confession...and she....the perfect girl....why this then???and why me???'....and as he hit his head on the steering sobbing in desperation finally
he remembered his mother leaving him...and all those last memories...

and then...he jerked his head up....DAD!!!!...oh no....he must be so.....oh god um such a jerk....and then again
those words had flashed back 'two of us in a relation'....he cursed her for being the one to make him realize...well she made you realize alot of stuff armaan he thought sarcastically
his eyes brimming with angry tears, and he wiped them away with furious force....thats why um being punished....ur showing me the meaning of carrying the load of a
one sided relationship right god???...sorry dad....i always knew i had been a nuisance to manage....a total mess, n u did not complain once...but i never knew until now, exactly how hard
that must have been on you....you lost mum too, but i never gave u the time or chance to think about that loss, i was just so full of myself n my misery n my loss....now i know...
a one sided relationship, with two people in it.....he cursed her again....why her to teach me this....chuck it man....enough of u and her...she came into my life, not for the love as i was
foolish to assume but for this realization...i will forget her...get over her....no relinquishing on life this time, mum was worth it not her...n i gave dad enough that once...now i have to be
with him.....no more of me n me alone here......even as he made his final resolve, he felt himself weakening...how he wished it wasnt so.....but it is armaan...thats exactly how it is.....
i wish there was an explaination....why this betrayal....then his expression slowly hardened....no armaan....never.....i will never ask her why she did this.....no reasons or justifications....
this chapter is now closed....forever.......he felt choked with emotion, guilt, heartbreak,
loss, and sheer helplessness....and broke down again.....

after several minutes, he calmed himself down, not completely but enough to make the call he knew should have been long made...
he called chris.....thank heavens he had....now all would be fine...he would fix his life finally....mum's rites have been done...n i have realized how i should trully be dad's support....thats
all that matters....and he started the ignition, driving back towards home.....

************


part 19 friends... n there is a surprise... i am done with the next part too...just a few more lines to end it, so i will update that in less than an hour....not sending PM's right now will do so for the parts together.....i just went on writing and so it was too much for a single part, so i added enough to make it the next part....n so thats two updates, in an hour!!!!!!!!!enjoy reading....n i wont keep u waiting too long, so i hope ul excuse the delay for this part!!!!!


Edited by spln - 08 June 2008 at 4:10pm

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Posted: 05 June 2008 at 2:25pm | IP Logged
~Part 20~

He had to find ridhima and talk to her...they had to both fix this mess together....um sorry minnie, he thought not letting the threatening tears leave his eyes, knowing they would
weaken him...he had seen her hurt expression and it had pulled at his heart, and he knew at that moment that nothing he ever could do, even after this mess was sorted, it had to be,
could ever make him forgive himself to have brought that upon her....when he had held onto her pulling her beind a car to explain after having run out after her, she had slapped him hard.....

and it was not the physical pain, but the agony that he had caused her to do it which had broken him so deeply inside....as she drove away, he stood there for minutes.....then he
remembered...ridhima...oh god armaan and her too...dam....we need to work this out ridzi, and he ran back into the room....just moments before chris and ridhima had come out....
he had looked for her all over for almost 20 minutes, before he spotted muskaan coming down, and asked her "where is she????" the name was not needed for muskaan to understand
what he was asking...."up in her room....i gave her pills so she would sleep a wile bhai, without her knowing of course, or she just going to cry her self ill with that sinus problem of hers"...

aryan had nodded and was going to move towards the stairs when shashank had pulled him saying. "you have to meet these old friends of mine aryan come along"....another half an
hour had passed, like an eternity for him, before he could get out of there as the crowd had thinned out....now as he opened her room, they never knocked....he saw the lights
turned off....oh no have the medicines put her to sleep already....shouldnt affect that quick, atleast an hour for them to really take over...and he turned on the light though he knew
it was a bad idea to wake her up if she had fallen asleep, muskaan wasnt wrong her sinus did get severe.....but this was unavoidable....as the light flooded the room.....he was shocked...

an empty, untouched bed????WHERE THE HELL WAS SHE????he looked all over the walk in closet, the balcony and the bathroom only to confirm his worst fears....she was indeed missing....
he doubled back his steps, now looking for muskaan, fortunately he found her soon enough...."muski, she is not in the room the bed is good as untouched...."...."but i gave her the pills...
she had them before my eyes and..."aryan gripped her arm tightly "OMG...the pills, n she dint know...go check if her car is still in the parklot...." he said hoping the obvious answer was
not going to be true...somehow he had found it hard to believe she would sleep after such an evening, he hated his intuition for hinting this but she must have gone out to look for armaan
she was just not the kinds to stay inactive when......oh no....why are you so impulsive ridz, why did you not listen to muski n sleep....and he called her.....

************

she sneaked out of the back door, it was not hard, cause nobody was looking for her, muskaan had said she would tell them she had a headache n was sleeping.....finally getting her car,
she steered away before something could stop her, after 20minutes of aimless meandering, she slowed down to a corner spot n thought of what was to be done next....the clubs????
dad had told him not to go drinking....implied a bar could be expected....she flipped open her cell again....why was dad's phone not reachable she thought slamming the cell shut...
oh well he wont be pleased if i told him um out to look for armaan anyways, i better not call if i dont want to lie....

she sat thinking hard, but it wasnt easy...
she had this uneasy dizziness trying to grip her head, and clear thinking was coming harder than usual....but that had to be the effect of the messed up bundle of emotions
her head was inundated with at the moment....shaking her head to clear it, she thought again..... dad also told him to drive back home....
could he have listened to him and done that???on an instinct she started the car again, and reversed it in the direction of her sister's future house....as she closed in she could
see the house apart from the others adorned in wedding lights....several cars were standing in the driveway, and even on the road outside....jeej had mentioned many of his relatives had
just driven in to delhi, being mostly concentrated in north indian zone....she parked her car on the sideway, keeping a certain distance from the house, the last thing
she needed was to be noticed herself or or have her car spotted....cause now finally having reached there she was having second thoughts....

di is getting married here...how can
i just barge into the house so late, when my own family doesnt know i am missing from home....and what will i say??that i came to meet the half indian guy i was madly in love with...
and that the engagement they had witnessed was but an illusion of their eyes, and that my fiance was fine with me falling in love with another man, since he himself was dating their
daughter...and then what if, he mad at her refused to accept any of that....well dad would save her...but that is not even the point....i just cant walk in and create a scene....minnie!!!
she suddenly thought, but then decided against that too.....armaan was not the only person who was going to be feeling cheated by the announcement...wonder if aryan had a chance
to explain stuff to minnie....

and just then her cell rang....aryan calling....she was about to pick it up but....no he will call me back home....no i wont take that call for now...i cant....
and she let it ring, hoping he would understand that she would not answer it for now.....she sat down on the side berm of the footpath just behind her car....as soon as she did, she felt
a rush of fatigue flow into her.....like she had not had rest in ages....what was happening she thought, rubbing her temples with her fingertips.....then leaning her back against the car she
started thinking again, it was getting hard, a weird drowsy sensation was trying to overpower her thoughts, she cupped her face in her hands and rest it on the knees...she needed to
close her eyes and think with deep concentration.....shut out all the surroundings....what could she do????where would armaan be????would he understand her????how mad was he at her
about this whole thing????and that painting, oh i did not even get to give him that......slowly her thoughts were going hazy, without realizing she was falling off into a deep slumber....

************

the phone rang again, muskaan calling, and then again, aryan calling, and then yet again, anjali calling.....as she slamed her phone shut, anjali looked in desperation at aryan and muskaan
shaking her head...."why was i not told about any of this before....aryan um so worried.....shes been missing for over 6 hours now....we have looked all over the city for possible places
where she could be....even called all her friends here, although that was not even a remote possibility.....and mum dad still dont know shes missing and three of us are out of home too,
without anybody knowing...." while muskaan chewed her nails nervously, aryan paced along the car, which they had parked in a side off the road as they wondered what else they could do
....aryan now said "we will have to tell your parents and mine if we dont find her by morning but till then i just....." he did not know what to say....he was scared now...

muskaan said in a tearful voice having a hard time trying to restrain herself from crying "even armaan is fine we know now from rahul's call,
he may already be back home in fact....where is this crazy girl...if only she answered the call we could tell her...." and then she cursed herself and added "and i had to give her those
sleeping pills today of all the days...."

anjali jerked her head up, she had forgotten that...now in complete panic she said "aryan do u think
she got dizzy driving and...." she could not bring herself to say the rest, but aryan knew what she meant that had been his prime worry for the past few hours....what if she had met with
an accident...he had secretly, while muskaan and anjali were calling her friends, called his hospital, and asked them to send out an alert to all the hospitals they had links with, describing ridhima
and saying that they should page him if any information of her was obtained from any possible source......anjali spoke again "i am going to call atul....i dont know if it can help...
but he is the only one who doesnt know from amongst us...he should now.....perhaps there is a way we havent thought of yet and he will...."

**************

"Dad!!!" he exclaimed the moment he entered the room.....chris, who had been deep in thought, and rahul who was slumped back on a chair, both shot out of their seats and
rushed to hug him..."ammy!!" "armaan" they said in unison....and armaan after hugging them both back hard pulled out himself and giving rahul a crooked smile said "its armaan
dude how many times do i have to tell u that...." rahul smiled back relaxed,

and armaan turned to face his dad and said, in a grave voice again...."um sorry dad...but i promise...this was
the last time...never again..." chris ruffled his hair and said "i cant believe how much u have matured in this past one week....talking sense, acting sense, n serious in love..." the
last words made armaan frown, much as chris had expected...while rahul just looked up seeing both reactions, wondering if he should stay or leave, making up his mind he moved
towards the door but arman held him back holding his hand...

"no just stay reg...." looking back at his dad he said "dad....thats the last time i was immature, n the last time
u mentioned anything to do with her....please....i dont want anything to do with any of this, n neither of u will mention it again..." with that he was going to move into the
bathroom when atul entered the room...."armaan??" he turned to face him, hearing the concern in his voice...n atul resumed "do u know whats up with minnie????she left from the
mehendi suddenly, about the same time as you....n i thought u both had gone out for something but i got back home to see her in bed....while u were still missing....n so i was
waiting for you to come back, n just saw ur car come in a few minutes ago....she doesnt know that i have sneaked into her room 10times already, n shes been crying al that time....
i was wondering if you have any clue about...."

armaan interrupted..."WHAT??? minnie crying???but why would she..." they were interrupted by atul's cell ringing,..."anji???at 4AM???"
his expression told others that the soon to be married couple was not among the common long night phone chat couples....as he talked they heard the single sided conversation....
"is everything ok honey????" as they heard a muffled voice, not quite able to make out the words from the other side, they saw his eyes widen slowly....n looked at each other, when
atul said after 5 minutes of just listening completely shocked..."WHAT?????" they all looked up at him...."but so..hang on...so where is she now????sorry i meant....anji??..."
they heard his tone soften suddenly "swetheart dont cry.....ridhima will be just fine...." armaan's head jerked up hearing the words....atul said "are u sure u missed none of those places???
what about her friends...yeh ok sorry, i was just.......i think we should let the elders know honey...huh???can u pass the phone to aryan for a moment????"

armaan's look hardened but he couldnt keep the concern away....was she alright???he listened attentively as atul spoke again
"aryan did u call the hospital to notify the whole circuit????ok good, though i hope
......yeh no i didnt say that to anji she will just get.....muskaan??well she....yeh she was....dont worry aryan...um going to help u with that.....ok listen.... il cut the call now n
i think we should file a report with the police in the next one hour i will do it myself..." armaan could hold himself no longer, HOSPITAL???POLICE??? he would have snatched the phone out
of atul's hands to talk himself n know what was going on, but at that moment atul cut the call...."WHAT HAPPENED TO RIDHIMA??" he asked almost in a yell, before atul could start
speaking...atul sighed and said "she is missing...and she....." armaan held him by the shoulders hard and asked "what????" atul gulped and said "well muskaan had put her to bed
n given her sleeping pills so she would rest and quit crying for ...." he looked at armaan his eyes saying the rest....

armaan understood that atul knew about ridhima and him,
so did anji perhaps she must have told him...."and????" atul looked down towards his feet "and she drove away without telling anyone, perhaps....to look for...you..." as armaans eyes now
widened atul finished "and she has been missing for over 6 hours now...." armaan spoke his voice quite shaken, and coming out with effort "so why the hospital???" although he thought he
knew the answer....."well she doesnt know she took sleeping pills, cause muskaan told her they were for headache....and so...well its a possibility she might have...like while driving the
medicines might have....cause its already been over 6 hours since she took them..." armaan held his head in both hands, and after a few moments, during which all three pairs of
eyes were on him he looked up again and making a move for the door he said "dont tell the police or her parents, il get her back before dawn...."....

***********

"is she out of her mind..." he muttered clenching his teeth....as he rushed down the stairs, while at the same time trying to avoid too much sound, this was hardly a moment when the
whole house should be woken up from their sleep....thankfully they were sleeping, or atleast in their rooms...."what was she thinking driving away like that???" he thought now,
desperate with worry....what if something....no no no...nothing will happen to her she will be just fine....and aryan has the hospitals informed anyways...even with the grim expression
he clenched his fist thinking of aryan....he stopped in his steps...why was he going to look for her....why was he worried, she was out of his life now he had decided and...but he just
resumed crawling out of the house the fastest he could....i can never get her out of my life....i love her....and now she is in this mess cause she went out looking for me....but why
did she do that????he shut his eyes tight for a moment and clenched his fingers tighter trying to breathe deep, relax armaan, all that later....first find her....before dawn as u have just
promised them all....oh god...please be ok sweetheart....then shaking his head, "crazy girl"....how could she just....and he walked hastily....finally stepping out of the door, he walked faster
towards his car, there had
been no space on the driveway so he had just parked it outside....and then as a sudden impulse he took out his cell..."they all obviously must have called her, but perhaps...." he
couldnt speak aloud his remaining wish, of how he hoped that she was just not be taking their calls, waiting for him to call....after he dialled putting the phone on his ear, he wished
he was right, that she was indeed waiting for him to call, and would now answer the phone and say she was just fine.....finally the bell...and he started fishing out his keys
for the car from the pocket simultaneously nearing his car....but then suddenly he stopped standing still....was he imagining, or could he hear that ringtone....he strained his ears
n could still hear it.....he shut his ears and opened them again, it was still ringing....the same familiar tone from her cell....and then it stopped, frowning he realized with a start
why it may have stopped as the operator said from his phone "the number you are trying to reach is currently not answering please try again later"...he called again...and within seconds he
could hear the ringtone outside....he tried following the sound, to reach near its source, and had redialled once more....when he finally spotted....the black toyota....she had one as well...
as he closed on the distance the ringtone grew louder, he redialled as it stopped ringing....running the last few steps he now stood next to the car, the ringtone of the cell was crystal clear....
as he looked inside the car it was empty, scratching his head, he started to circle it only to stop short in his tracks yet again.....there she was, her head falling on her side due to
lack of head rest....her hair falling over her face, her pattern filled arms hugging her knees, trying to snuggle, a slight frown on her apparently tear stricken face....
shivering in the chilly early morning air with just the tee and jeans, as she slept in that sitting position resting her back against the tyre.....

*************

~Part 21~

he felt a gush of relief as never ever before, and giving in to all his worked up muscles from the events of the evening he slid down to the pavement next to
her just in time as her head knocked lose from the insufficient back support to fall sideways yet again, except that it now fell into the perfect fit on his shoulder....
he looked at her, the love and concern he had decided to abandon, all flooding back n reflecting in his unblinking gaze....and gently he moved the hair falling over her
face to fix them behind her ears....as his eyes fell on her face again....he realized she must be really cold....he had a strong urge to kiss her on her trembling lips....
he looked away for a moment to recollect himself, then looking back....he moved the shoulder she was resting on slightly,
causing her to frown, and put that arm around her shoulder, pulling her into a cuddle, and rubbed her shoulders, gently yet enough to warm her up a bit....she
snuggled deeper in her sleep and he remembered the same incident from their plane journey....inevitably he smiled, not able to take his
eyes off her until he felt her freezing hold on his arm....with a start he realized how cold her hands n arms were, he could feel the chill of her grip through his kurta sleeve
n then as he saw the dark pattern on her hands n arms upto the elbow for the wedding.....

the thought brought him back
to the present, he got grim again....he had to tell them all she was safe they were worried out of their wits, while she slept like a beauty here....he smiled at her again...
WHAT????dude...no....just take her in, give ur mind a break...thats enough action for tonight he moved now to get up n take her inside....as he tried to pick her up....
he felt he yanked her lose strands, as her face showed a spontaneous painful expression...pulling his arms back from his hold on her,
he put her down again, let her stay....resting on one side knee n the toes of the other foot, he faced her now....

first, he took out the stole from his neck, and shaking it lose from its
folds, draped it around her securing it like a shawl...it wasnt much, but that was all he had at the moment to keep her warm.....
then as she rest against the car again, her eyes shut and her look like a lost child, he sat staring at her....the kohl smudged slightly around her eyes from
crying giving her eyes a hazy shade......running his fingers through her lose hair, he pushed them back gently from her forehead,

then he gave a helpless smile, the sadness still lurking in his eyes....."why did u do this honey????" he whispered, "i love u so much....first u said u love me too....
then that engagement with...."he paused his voice cracking, then breathing deeply he resumed looking at her, his eyes getting teary...
"n finally when i decide to come to terms with things i find out u went through all this for me????what are u trying to prove here ridzi????
he cupped her unaware face in his hands n caressing her cheek lovingly he said in a barely audible whisper now...."i cant take it now sweetheart....
how much more will u put me through...." and he pulled her closer, kissing her forehead, wishing in that moment that things were as they had been
a few hours ago, n this was all but a mere nightmare....

as he tousled her hair his lips stil on her forehead, he heard a small sound, n opening his shut eyes he saw her clip had fallen off
her silken tresses not bound anymore....he frowned seeing the clip...then n picking it up shook his head, oh dam not this thing again....he thought
then pulled her face closer gently and as it fell on his chest resting against it, he tried to fix her hair....how the hell had muskaan done it....dam why is all this girls stuff so complex
he thought frowning deeper now, still trying to figure it out. about a minute later he felt her stir against him....pulling her out of his chest he gently tried to shake her awake....
"ridzi?? he said, then as he barely heard his own voice choked as it felt, he cleared his throat and said again louder this time...
"ridhima??? wake up sweetie..." and as he shook her face lightly.....

she just gripped his hand in her sleep dragging it off her face and holding it tight, thereby checking the factor distirbing her sleep.....armaan shook his head slowly muttering
"not even in that pills induced slumber will u let me have my way...." with some effort he managed to free his hand from hers....n after looking at her a few moments he made a move
reluctantly, it was high time, she was getting really cold, and the others had to be informed....

he gathered her hair and tucked them into the stole draped around her giving up the clip as a bad idea....
which he clenched with his teeth...then he lifted her up in one swift motion....and moved towards the house.....as he closed in on the driveway, he thought...maybe this is not
a good way to enter now that she is...engaged to aryan.... he thought despeartely fighting within to check the onset of another depressing chain of thoughts...
just in case someone, specially grand mum is already up....lowering her to the ground in a standing position this time he held onto her with
one arm around her shoulder and with the other hand he called chris.......

************

as she opened her eyes slightly, at first she saw a blur of colors...."thank god shes coming back...." she heard as if from the depths of a well....as she opened her eyes wider, with
effort, she saw anjali hovering over her...."how are you ridzi????" and without waiting for a response she felt herself jerked out of the bed, as she was pulled into a hug by anjali
who said now in tears "crazy kid....why did you do that, i was dying with the stress..." ridhima now looked around and realized she was in her own room, on her bed, and surrounded by
them all....aryan, muskaan, rahul, atul...an anjali....but why was he not there???

"where is ...." she started and looking around her eyes stopped on aryan, pleading him to
answer her question...he oblidged, sighing "armaan is fine...he decided to rest at homeas had a long night...." muskaan said now "and so did you....how could you be so
insensitive ridz....u know how worried we were, u out alone driving in the night....and i would never have been able to forgive myself if those sleeping pills had...." she
stopped not wanting to say what might have been but thankfully was not....instead she just moved forward and hugged ridhima who said puzzled now..."sleeping pills???"
then as realization dawned upon her her eyes grew wider "oh thats why i felt so...." pulling herself free from muskaans grasp she spoke again as if to herself
"but then how did i reach...AAACCHEW!"

as she sneezed atul interrupted now...."armaan found you..." as she looked up with a flickering relief in her eyes,
he narrated the whole thing, including how they all now knew about armaan and her...and aryan and minnie...." as he finished,
ridhima now said, after a few moments of silent browsing "and armaan said he was tired to come
along here???"....then to herself "liar....AAACHHEW! " she sneezed again and then aloud ..."where is my cell???"

anjali quipped in now in a stern voice"no ridz....right now u rest for
some hours....nothing else...u were freezing when he found you outside, god knows how many hours u slept in the cold like that...." AAACCHEW...ridhima sneezed again
"and look at you...catching that horrendous virus again..." before ridhima could protest she continued "no ridzi....u think um going to be marrying once every year???" atul looked
up frowning at her choice of words..."its just this once and i will have u burried alive if you come up with this cold on my wedding night....do i make myself clear??" atul now
grinned slightly,

while ridhima still not giving up said "but di i must talk to armaan and tell..." anjali interrupted "look u be glad ur not in the best of health to combat my
attacks or i would have given u a spanking for not telling me any of this before...as for armaan...he is not running away he will be coming for the sangeet tonight...
you can explain everything then....in person, not on phone thats the least he deserves....aryan and minnie have to sort out as well...and then we have to think of how
to clear all of this before mum pa, and aryans parents....but any and all of that will only happen if u rest well now, stay warm n be fit to stay up the evening it is
likely to be a long one for u...." in a lower voice she added "and we are all with u in it...."

now aryan stepped forward and hugged ridhima and said "u scared me
frisco....dont ever do this again first that engagement and minnie...then u diasappearing....clever girl, leaving me to handle all the mess alone???" he said
the last sentence looking at her reproachfully in mock anger, with a smile on his lips...AAACCHEW! she sneezed again shaking her head and said "um sorry...u r right...i was crazy as usual.....
but aryan..." he looked up all his attention for her "we will fix this right???" he squeezed her hand and nodded his head, and she finally smiled....AACCHEW!!

muskaan spoke up
now "by the way...i dont see her cold going unnoticed, and um quite sure ur nani saw us sneaking in an hour ago even though her focus was on the morning aarti....how are we
explaining that???" rahul said "can u just say, that u all really wanted to go out as friends for old times sake, and atul and i were with u????" anjali said "at 4:30am???" rahul
reasoned "well say that you all were up chatting and had a sudden plan, and went out quietly not wanting to disturb the elders???" aryan nodded in agreement "i think that will
work anji....the wedding atmosphere and all that...n then ridzi and muski are known for their nocturnal traits, and we docs are born as owls to survive our profession...
i dont see how thats not convincing..."

they all nodded....then ridhima said "ok....now let me sleep now...." and they all smiled at her...aryan knowing that was not what she was
going to do gave her a warning look, and she reassured him smiling back....as they finally left her room, she got up in the same instant "where the hell is my cell now???" AACHEWW..
"dam this cold..."....

***********

feeling a hand on his shoulder armaan came out of his thoughts and turned around to see chris...sighing he said "oh dad, you!" chris sat down facing him..."atul and rahul just got back....
armaan looked down toying with his cell, as it started ringing...he cut the call without looking before a single ring was over...chris said without batting an eyelid "why dont u just take
her call armaan???she been calling u for 15minutes now...." as armaan looked up astonished chris continued "yeh like always i know everything without u telling me...in fact this
time i know more than u do armaan...its not what ur taking it to be....that engagement is total..."

"dad please" armaan interrupted...."i really dont want to talk about this...
can we drop the topic....like forever....its her life and her decision, i can only handle my part of things and i have made my decision too....i really dont care anymore" as armaan
rattled off all of that, chris listened without interrupting and once he was done said "exactly who cares how much has been apparent in the past one hour....if you really dont
care then take her call....cause then no matter what she has to say to you, its not likely to affect the decision you say you have made...." armaan looked up
hearing the tone in his dad's voice,

and chris sighed...he had never been impatient with armaan even in those frsutrating months....but for once he had to make
him see the truth...too much was at stake, and there was not much time within which all this misunderstanding had to be cleared, between the children, and amongst the adults...
he spoke again "i know u will do exactly what u feel convinced about armaan...but i want you to reconsider, if you really are convinced with what you are doing....
if you really dont care....if you really do want to let go of things which are meant to be...."

armaan said in a choking voice "DAD!" then shutting his eyes and opening them again
"is it that hard for u to see that i am not the one who let go of things here dad....she did....and that too after all that....that happened in the last few days between us...."
holding onto his father's hands tightly,and resting his head on them he said in a hoarse whisper "i wish more than anything else that it was meant to be dad...."

chris raised armaan's head, making him look back at him into the eye and said in a solemn yet firm voice "well it is....armaan she did not know this was going to happen...
she has not, as you think, let you go....she was completely unaware of that engagement thing....." armaan interrupted again "yeh right....she did not know....ok dad lets say
you are right....why did she not speak up then at that moment and say it was not what she wanted....and what about aryan...i trusted him more than ridhima does i think....
and they just stood there receiving the best wishes, without saying a word....."

this time chris did not wait nto hear all of what armaan had to say "she was just as shocked as
any of us armaan....think about it....you cant always react the way you rightfully should in such situations....if she did not care about u she would not have gone through all
of what she did the whole night for you....and you have to know this armaan i was deeply disappointed when you walked into the washroom when anji and everyone came for
ridhima and wanted to thank you...." armaan got up from his chair in frustration "dad i did not want to....n i know it was inappropriate....but the sight of aryan, when he rushed to
her....i just could not...." he stopped looking upwards trying hard to control the outburst....

chris said "can u stop chanting about aryan for once????he loves minnie...."
as armaan now turned around completely taken by shock, chris continued "yeh u heard me....he has been just as heartbroken and shocked as u and ridhima....
and minnie, who as atul told us has been crying all night....n he has also been the only one acting sane through it all..." armaan now frowned totally confused....
chris kept going "and aryan rushed to ridhima out his concern
alone....he is her best friend....like rahul is for you....she just happens to have her closest friend in a boy and not a girl....is that a crime beyond redemption for you???"
armaan spoke now in a low, puzzled voice "aryan and minnie....but how could he n ridhima both have not known about that engagement, how did it just happen and...." chris
sighed and patting armaan's head he said in a wise voice "thats exactly why u should take her call armaan....she can answer best....and if you love her as much as you
do, then trust her, and your love for her....give her a chance to explain....without that aryan biased thinking ruling your mind...." with that chris left the room....deciding
armaan needed some time to himself now, to ponder over all that he had just told him....

***********

~Part 21~

he felt a gush of relief as never ever before, and giving in to all his worked up muscles from the events of the evening he slid down to the pavement next to
her just in time as her head knocked lose from the insufficient back support to fall sideways yet again, except that it now fell into the perfect fit on his shoulder....
he looked at her, the love and concern he had decided to abandon, all flooding back n reflecting in his unblinking gaze....and gently he moved the hair falling over her
face to fix them behind her ears....as his eyes fell on her face again....he realized she must be really cold....he had a strong urge to kiss her on her trembling lips....
he looked away for a moment to recollect himself, then looking back....he moved the shoulder she was resting on slightly,
causing her to frown, and put that arm around her shoulder, pulling her into a cuddle, and rubbed her shoulders, gently yet enough to warm her up a bit....she
snuggled deeper in her sleep and he remembered the same incident from their plane journey....inevitably he smiled, not able to take his
eyes off her until he felt her freezing hold on his arm....with a start he realized how cold her hands n arms were, he could feel the chill of her grip through his kurta sleeve
n then as he saw the dark pattern on her hands n arms upto the elbow for the wedding.....

the thought brought him back
to the present, he got grim again....he had to tell them all she was safe they were worried out of their wits, while she slept like a beauty here....he smiled at her again...
WHAT????dude...no....just take her in, give ur mind a break...thats enough action for tonight he moved now to get up n take her inside....as he tried to pick her up....
he felt he yanked her lose strands, as her face showed a spontaneous painful expression...pulling his arms back from his hold on her,
he put her down again, let her stay....resting on one side knee n the toes of the other foot, he faced her now....

first, he took out the stole from his neck, and shaking it lose from its
folds, draped it around her securing it like a shawl...it wasnt much, but that was all he had at the moment to keep her warm.....
then as she rest against the car again, her eyes shut and her look like a lost child, he sat staring at her....the kohl smudged slightly around her eyes from
crying giving her eyes a hazy shade......running his fingers through her lose hair, he pushed them back gently from her forehead,

then he gave a helpless smile, the sadness still lurking in his eyes....."why did u do this honey????" he whispered, "i love u so much....first u said u love me too....
then that engagement with...."he paused his voice cracking, then breathing deeply he resumed looking at her, his eyes getting teary...
"n finally when i decide to come to terms with things i find out u went through all this for me????what are u trying to prove here ridzi????
he cupped her unaware face in his hands n caressing her cheek lovingly he said in a barely audible whisper now...."i cant take it now sweetheart....
how much more will u put me through...." and he pulled her closer, kissing her forehead, wishing in that moment that things were as they had been
a few hours ago, n this was all but a mere nightmare....

as he tousled her hair his lips stil on her forehead, he heard a small sound, n opening his shut eyes he saw her clip had fallen off
her silken tresses not bound anymore....he frowned seeing the clip...then n picking it up shook his head, oh dam not this thing again....he thought
then pulled her face closer gently and as it fell on his chest resting against it, he tried to fix her hair....how the hell had muskaan done it....dam why is all this girls stuff so complex
he thought frowning deeper now, still trying to figure it out. about a minute later he felt her stir against him....pulling her out of his chest he gently tried to shake her awake....
"ridzi?? he said, then as he barely heard his own voice choked as it felt, he cleared his throat and said again louder this time...
"ridhima??? wake up sweetie..." and as he shook her face lightly.....

she just gripped his hand in her sleep dragging it off her face and holding it tight, thereby checking the factor distirbing her sleep.....armaan shook his head slowly muttering
"not even in that pills induced slumber will u let me have my way...." with some effort he managed to free his hand from hers....n after looking at her a few moments he made a move
reluctantly, it was high time, she was getting really cold, and the others had to be informed....

he gathered her hair and tucked them into the stole draped around her giving up the clip as a bad idea....
which he clenched with his teeth...then he lifted her up in one swift motion....and moved towards the house.....as he closed in on the driveway, he thought...maybe this is not
a good way to enter now that she is...engaged to aryan.... he thought despeartely fighting within to check the onset of another depressing chain of thoughts...
just in case someone, specially grand mum is already up....lowering her to the ground in a standing position this time he held onto her with
one arm around her shoulder and with the other hand he called chris.......

************

as she opened her eyes slightly, at first she saw a blur of colors...."thank god shes coming back...." she heard as if from the depths of a well....as she opened her eyes wider, with
effort, she saw anjali hovering over her...."how are you ridzi????" and without waiting for a response she felt herself jerked out of the bed, as she was pulled into a hug by anjali
who said now in tears "crazy kid....why did you do that, i was dying with the stress..." ridhima now looked around and realized she was in her own room, on her bed, and surrounded by
them all....aryan, muskaan, rahul, atul...an anjali....but why was he not there???

"where is ...." she started and looking around her eyes stopped on aryan, pleading him to
answer her question...he oblidged, sighing "armaan is fine...he decided to rest at homeas had a long night...." muskaan said now "and so did you....how could you be so
insensitive ridz....u know how worried we were, u out alone driving in the night....and i would never have been able to forgive myself if those sleeping pills had...." she
stopped not wanting to say what might have been but thankfully was not....instead she just moved forward and hugged ridhima who said puzzled now..."sleeping pills???"
then as realization dawned upon her her eyes grew wider "oh thats why i felt so...." pulling herself free from muskaans grasp she spoke again as if to herself
"but then how did i reach...AAACCHEW!"

as she sneezed atul interrupted now...."armaan found you..." as she looked up with a flickering relief in her eyes,
he narrated the whole thing, including how they all now knew about armaan and her...and aryan and minnie...." as he finished,
ridhima now said, after a few moments of silent browsing "and armaan said he was tired to come
along here???"....then to herself "liar....AAACHHEW! " she sneezed again and then aloud ..."where is my cell???"

anjali quipped in now in a stern voice"no ridz....right now u rest for
some hours....nothing else...u were freezing when he found you outside, god knows how many hours u slept in the cold like that...." AAACCHEW...ridhima sneezed again
"and look at you...catching that horrendous virus again..." before ridhima could protest she continued "no ridzi....u think um going to be marrying once every year???" atul looked
up frowning at her choice of words..."its just this once and i will have u burried alive if you come up with this cold on my wedding night....do i make myself clear??" atul now
grinned slightly,

while ridhima still not giving up said "but di i must talk to armaan and tell..." anjali interrupted "look u be glad ur not in the best of health to combat my
attacks or i would have given u a spanking for not telling me any of this before...as for armaan...he is not running away he will be coming for the sangeet tonight...
you can explain everything then....in person, not on phone thats the least he deserves....aryan and minnie have to sort out as well...and then we have to think of how
to clear all of this before mum pa, and aryans parents....but any and all of that will only happen if u rest well now, stay warm n be fit to stay up the evening it is
likely to be a long one for u...." in a lower voice she added "and we are all with u in it...."

now aryan stepped forward and hugged ridhima and said "u scared me
frisco....dont ever do this again first that engagement and minnie...then u diasappearing....clever girl, leaving me to handle all the mess alone???" he said
the last sentence looking at her reproachfully in mock anger, with a smile on his lips...AAACCHEW! she sneezed again shaking her head and said "um sorry...u r right...i was crazy as usual.....
but aryan..." he looked up all his attention for her "we will fix this right???" he squeezed her hand and nodded his head, and she finally smiled....AACCHEW!!

muskaan spoke up
now "by the way...i dont see her cold going unnoticed, and um quite sure ur nani saw us sneaking in an hour ago even though her focus was on the morning aarti....how are we
explaining that???" rahul said "can u just say, that u all really wanted to go out as friends for old times sake, and atul and i were with u????" anjali said "at 4:30am???" rahul
reasoned "well say that you all were up chatting and had a sudden plan, and went out quietly not wanting to disturb the elders???" aryan nodded in agreement "i think that will
work anji....the wedding atmosphere and all that...n then ridzi and muski are known for their nocturnal traits, and we docs are born as owls to survive our profession...
i dont see how thats not convincing..."

they all nodded....then ridhima said "ok....now let me sleep now...." and they all smiled at her...aryan knowing that was not what she was
going to do gave her a warning look, and she reassured him smiling back....as they finally left her room, she got up in the same instant "where the hell is my cell now???" AACHEWW..
"dam this cold..."....

***********

feeling a hand on his shoulder armaan came out of his thoughts and turned around to see chris...sighing he said "oh dad, you!" chris sat down facing him..."atul and rahul just got back....
armaan looked down toying with his cell, as it started ringing...he cut the call without looking before a single ring was over...chris said without batting an eyelid "why dont u just take
her call armaan???she been calling u for 15minutes now...." as armaan looked up astonished chris continued "yeh like always i know everything without u telling me...in fact this
time i know more than u do armaan...its not what ur taking it to be....that engagement is total..."

"dad please" armaan interrupted...."i really dont want to talk about this...
can we drop the topic....like forever....its her life and her decision, i can only handle my part of things and i have made my decision too....i really dont care anymore" as armaan
rattled off all of that, chris listened without interrupting and once he was done said "exactly who cares how much has been apparent in the past one hour....if you really dont
care then take her call....cause then no matter what she has to say to you, its not likely to affect the decision you say you have made...." armaan looked up
hearing the tone in his dad's voice,

and chris sighed...he had never been impatient with armaan even in those frsutrating months....but for once he had to make
him see the truth...too much was at stake, and there was not much time within which all this misunderstanding had to be cleared, between the children, and amongst the adults...
he spoke again "i know u will do exactly what u feel convinced about armaan...but i want you to reconsider, if you really are convinced with what you are doing....
if you really dont care....if you really do want to let go of things which are meant to be...."

armaan said in a choking voice "DAD!" then shutting his eyes and opening them again
"is it that hard for u to see that i am not the one who let go of things here dad....she did....and that too after all that....that happened in the last few days between us...."
holding onto his father's hands tightly,and resting his head on them he said in a hoarse whisper "i wish more than anything else that it was meant to be dad...."

chris raised armaan's head, making him look back at him into the eye and said in a solemn yet firm voice "well it is....armaan she did not know this was going to happen...
she has not, as you think, let you go....she was completely unaware of that engagement thing....." armaan interrupted again "yeh right....she did not know....ok dad lets say
you are right....why did she not speak up then at that moment and say it was not what she wanted....and what about aryan...i trusted him more than ridhima does i think....
and they just stood there receiving the best wishes, without saying a word....."

this time chris did not wait nto hear all of what armaan had to say "she was just as shocked as
any of us armaan....think about it....you cant always react the way you rightfully should in such situations....if she did not care about u she would not have gone through all
of what she did the whole night for you....and you have to know this armaan i was deeply disappointed when you walked into the washroom when anji and everyone came for
ridhima and wanted to thank you...." armaan got up from his chair in frustration "dad i did not want to....n i know it was inappropriate....but the sight of aryan, when he rushed to
her....i just could not...." he stopped looking upwards trying hard to control the outburst....

chris said "can u stop chanting about aryan for once????he loves minnie...."
as armaan now turned around completely taken by shock, chris continued "yeh u heard me....he has been just as heartbroken and shocked as u and ridhima....
and minnie, who as atul told us has been crying all night....n he has also been the only one acting sane through it all..." armaan now frowned totally confused....
chris kept going "and aryan rushed to ridhima out his concern
alone....he is her best friend....like rahul is for you....she just happens to have her closest friend in a boy and not a girl....is that a crime beyond redemption for you???"
armaan spoke now in a low, puzzled voice "aryan and minnie....but how could he n ridhima both have not known about that engagement, how did it just happen and...." chris
sighed and patting armaan's head he said in a wise voice "thats exactly why u should take her call armaan....she can answer best....and if you love her as much as you
do, then trust her, and your love for her....give her a chance to explain....without that aryan biased thinking ruling your mind...." with that chris left the room....deciding
armaan needed some time to himself now, to ponder over all that he had just told him....

***********

~Part 22~

"Um sorry did i disturb you atul???" asked armaan as atul peeked through the door, now opening it wider he gestured him to to come inside....latching the door behind him he turned
around to face an unsure, fidgeting armaan, who looked down at the carpet, then out of the window towards the balcony, then up towards the ceiling
until atul said "sorry to interrupt your survey of my room bro, but something tells me thats not what you are here for....lets get to the point...ridhima is fine, anji just called to say...
armaan interrupted finally looking up at atul "hows minnie???" atul was surprised by the question....he answered in a curious tone, "i think she still quite shocked, but the last
i saw her she had somehow cried herself to sleep, so i tucked the warm sheets around her in the bed, hoping she will manage to get up better rested...and better prepared
for the evening and also to face..." armaan interrupted again "aryan????" atul nodded...

armaan sighed and said "does she love him atul???" before he could even nod in answer
"i mean, do they both love each other....like....when n how did you come to know????" armaan said, not quite sure of what exactly he was here to confirm from atul....
atul moved towards armaan and said "i came to know only in those early tense hours of the morning today, as i am a fool, and absolutely not a deserving
elder brother to get a sister like her...." as armaan looked at him hearing the remorse in his voice atul continued...."she and aryan the reason anji n i are together today....
u know the way they both are....master pranksters....well aryan and she have been in the hospital we all work in now for some years before anji and me....i mean, anji like ridhima
has not been in delhi with her parents for the the past few years, and initial years of job to be precise were in mumbai, until last year that is....
which is the same time when i returned from australia, after
doing my first few years of work there as a medic....it was the evening before we were officially going to join the APOLLO, where these two worked...." he looked in a
daze remembering the past...."they were as u can well imagine, completely clashing personalities, the tom n jerry of the hospital, always together, but never by choice.....
anyways so something resulted in them being teamed up against another pair of interns for some fun activity at their camps, and they lost....god knows who that other group
comprised of, to have beaten the team of them....unless of course, as can be expected, they were both busy fighting each other instead of fighting as a team.....

armaan nodded in agreement, convinced he could actually picture them that way.....
"well so they lost, and got a punishment for the evening ball on the annual founders day ceremony at the end of that week...they were supposed to attend the ball as a couple....
which obviously was not their idea of a romantic date....i had got back just two days before this event, and anji told me on a later date, that
she had arrived that afternoon itself....but somehow they persuaded us, aryan coaxed anji i mean, and i was talked into that crazy plan by my darling kid sister, i have
never quite managed to say no to her you see...." armaan looked at atuls smile when he said those words, which turned a bit mournful again, then sighing, atul sat down
on the carpet resting his back against a couch, and armaan followed suit, listening attentively to his words...

"trust me when i say the plan was insane, i am grossly understating
facts....they talked to each other, realizing they had to handle this fix together much to the displeasure of both, and decided that they would each bring another date, and then
enter the ball as per the plan as a couple themselves, while their dates entered as their guests....and then , since the ball evening theme was waltz with a mask, they would just swap
without anybody realizing....." armaan smiled for real despite himself and his unsettling thoughts, first time in the past almost 10hours....as atul continued "an well, my
dear sister minnie must have created a world record by asking her own real brother to be her date....i gave in when she threatened to get some random guy to play the role
if i did not agree...what with the masks and the ball and the drinks on the house, i did not trust the immature kid she is, and thought id better join her plan...." armaan now
chuckled, picturing minnie and atul on a date....gosh he thought, she really was a prankster queen....here was one girl who had the gall to beat his own trully...."and aryan
brainwashed anji to go with him...." said atul interrupting armaan's thoughts....

"then what????did you fall for anji right away???like love at first sight and all???" asked armaan
this was quite a story and it was indeed inciting his curious nerves....."well yeh, but not quite....love at first sight needs you to see the other person armaan, we had masks on
....but things did work as minnie and aryan had planned....well for them in the least to say....after the first waltz, and the only one that evening which anji and i danced together
i just could not keep myself from noticing her all evening....she had been sensational, the finesse of a perfect waltz came to her with such ease, i had never before been
able to lead a woman into these formal dances so effortlessly....as the evening progressed i flinched everytime aryan danced with her," at this armaan looked up, then
down again playing with his fingers thinking of his emotions as the image of aryan and ridhima on the stage, their engagement being announced flashed in his head....
atul continued...."seeing them laugh and joke, hi five each other and all that you know, i felt as one would to have intruders upon ones rightful property..."

atul paused closing his eyes lightly while
armaan completely recognized the feeling, it was in him right now...and much more intense atul spoke again in a lovestruck voice
"and it was unbelievable, considering i am not quite the 'fall for the charms
of the fair ladies' guy myself....but she was just....different....anyways, too bad for me, cause anji tells me she felt nothing like that on the evening we met...although the dance
she agrees was a spark.....but just that, something she left at the threshold of the hall where the bash was....
but something about the way aryan and anjali were with each other told me they were not quite real dates either....well perhaps not as creatively unreal as minnie and me...
but certainly not lovers, that chemistry was missing....they seemed more like buddies, which is not astonishing since thats what they were...n are..." at this point atul paused to see
armaan's reaction, there was none to be studied, armaan was just lost in thought, and atul hoped he was like atul had back then, realizing the same missing chemistry between
ridhima and aryan, since buddies was exactly what those two were as well....he resumed, drawing armaan's attention again
" anyways, i pestered muskaan forever it seemed after that
evening to get me the details of her archenemies date...." atul chuckled "u can imagine what it must have taken me to get her to finally oblidge me on that one.....
not to leave out that when anji n i saw each other at the hospital the first morning, which was also the evening after the dance, we did not know each
other as partners in the first waltz, cause of the masks...only a week later, when muskaan finally did me the favor, and we went for our first eventual date another few weeks after that,
the topic was mentioned and discussed....we laughed our sides aching, about the whole thing....
the very first date told me here was something i would never want to let go....oh well then its just the usual....dates and all that until the proposal...n u are here to winess the rest...."

armaan was in deep thought again, atul knew he had succeeded in reactivating his grey cells....as a final seal he added "aryan and muskaan were instrumental in bringing anji n me
together....specially aryan as far as anji is concerned....cause he was, as per their family wishes, her likely suitor..." as armaan looked up now totally shocked atul nodded
"god alone knows how he talked the two families out of it...in addition to persuading anji to stand up for her love.....the families were not repulsive, but its just hard to break
news like that when they have been assuming something totally different for many years you know...." as armaan now frowned deep, his thoughts a total mess, atul held
his shoulder in a supportive grip and said "i think you need to ensure you are not giving in to a complete misunderstanding of situation here armaan...." as he looked up atul finished
in a softer tone looking in the air ahead of him "aryan is a great guy, the best friend u could wish for, he did all that for me, and here i am, missed the obvious in his and minnie's
life....i need to fix things between them as well....its my turn now, n he trully earned this out of me...."

armaan heard the last words, and ruffled his hair....he wished he could all facts
in place in one go....it appeared that they were all convinced he was ,misunderstanding....perhaps he was....he crossed his fingers thinking hopefully he was....
but what about the frame...that gift from ridhima to aryan....this was all getting so complicated...he remembered what chris had said...
yes i have to talk to her atleast once he thought.....getting up he said looking atul in the eye...."i will remember what you said....and thanks for the time,"
stopping atul before he could interrupt armaan added in a lighter voice "i know this is a bad hour
and i apologize for eating into your sleeping time when u could be dreaming of a waltz with anji instead!!!" and he winked, leaving behind a smiling atul....

***************

"AAAACHEWW..." armaan almost fell off the window sill he was trying to jump over, taken back by her sudden sneeze...as he balanced himself, he muttered "just in time dude....
barely survived this one"....he was going to climb over but as he raised himself he heard her speak in a
guilty pleading voice "um sorry mum it was not just my plan and...." MUM???he thought in horror, oh dam PM is here....so much for this lifethreatening climb,n here i was
assuming id get to see her alone, without having to explain myself to the whole family as i would have to on entering from the door....he raised himself enough to get a clear
view of the room....and saw padma's concern change into a glare....and he noticed anjali and muskaan were in the room too....then he finally looked at her.....
she was holding the blaket tightly around her self snuggling in, her expression...MEEK???wow thats is one i havent seen before he thought a smile spreading across his lips...
and then feeling his hands sweating and slipping he cursed in an undertone trying to slide over as noiselessly as possible AAACCHEW...she sneezed again....
sliding into the balcony and hidding in a corner, he thought, um bound to die of a seizure....this girl gona kill me one of these days...
what perfect timing....but he had managed second time in less than a minute to save himself and now stood such that
he could still see it all....

padma spoke "yeh it was everyone's plan to go out for a walk at 3AM, n u thought that
was not crazy adventure enough so decided to leave without any warm clothes, with the mehendi all over your arms????u know how intensely it cools????"
padma said scolding her....she looked up sheepishly trying hard to sound convincing "no mum i was AAACHHEW....was just so excited about the idea, i AAACHEW ....
i forgot to take the jacket along.....and AAACCHEW" "and ur back with this virus just in time for ur sisters wedding..." AAACCHEW, as she sneezed again, armaan felt a pang
of guilt and padma spoke again, stern and concerned at the same time..."i dont understand this girl honestly...who forgets jackets in the month of december???u listen
to me now young lady, leave your adventurism in the states when u come visiting us, and mind u another crazy act out of u, and i will ensure you are grounded for the rest
of your stay in india...."

armaan grinned despite his guilt at being responsible greatly for her suffering from the cold and her mum's temper....but his grin changed the moment he heard the new voice "she
deserves nothing less aunty...." and he saw aryan enter....he looked back at ridz to see her reaction, she was glaring at him, as if daring him, that his next word would
cost him his life....their hug from the airport, the evening of mehendi and the two of them on stage....it all falshed back to him one by one....then he remembered aryan's words
when he had bid them farewell before the short agra trip....he remembered also his call to aryan....going in order he next recalled aryan's plan in helping him meet ridhima
that night before the mehendi on the pretext of getting books from minnie......in that moment armaan relaxed, not because she was giving him an angry look,
but because he felt atul's words ringing back, they were indeed buddies....they were inseperable friends,and something had happened for their parents to mistake their relation...
what that was, only they could explain....but not one time could he remember ridhima with aryan the way she was with him,....they were close indeed...but never like him and her
in atuls words the chemistry was missing....and he found himself crossing his fingers, please let it all be a misunderstanding...i love her so.....

AAACCHEW...her sneeze brought him
back...as he heard padma midsentence, having missed a part of the convo in his thoughts...."antibiotics wont be the same...." she said in finality....
he saw ridhima look as if caught real bad....glancing up at the three others in the room to find her an escape route and muskaan said "aunty these are quite effective for her she has
them whenever she catches that virus in school as well and..."padma interrupted "u stop siding up with her muski...i cant flyover to the states and change what you do in school...
but nani has made this especially strong kaada for you n u r going to have it..." armaan saw her shove the glass close to ridhima who looked like she would throw up....
"ni peena naaa, muje ye....ammaa pleassse" she whinned with a disgusted look at the glass....armaan looked up at her in surprise...
it was the first time he heard her speak anything other than english....she had sounded so adorable....he just stared at her....she is such a kid he thought....
the other three were grinning, and as ridhima glared at them anji said "oh no mum....your anglosized kid talking in hindi...thats warning number one for
the onset of her emotional blackmail...."...while aryan added "yup aunty dont fall for that 'mum' changing to 'ammaa' thats warning number two!!!!"

ridhima now looked out of her
wits, furious at them all taking the chance against her, as padma was not looking at them, muskaan mouthed "thats for the torture u put us through last night...." AAACCHEW
"mum i....AAACCHEW...please i cant AAACCHEW...." padma gave her a stern silencing look...AAACCHEW she sneezed again..."if you really dont want me to lock u in this room
when everyone is enjoying in the sangeet tonite, u will have it...NOW..." ridhima gulped looking at the glass,
and armaan shook his head now having a hard time not laughing at the sight of her
as he saw her mutter he knew it was no parise for any of them in the room....she said "can i eat something first and then have it???" padma nodded and then pausing she added
"but if i come to know u drained it in the washroom like last time, i will make u drink a jar full of kaada" armaan closed his eyes hard, and fastened his grip on his mouth,
to check his laughter at that last
horrified expression on her face, and doubled up inside his control failing slowly as she said urgently "no no no....i promise i will have it...." then in a lower voice
"just hungry....i ummmm....did not get a chance to eat any dinner and then ummmm....the nightout i mean....just hungry...."

armaan now looked at her feeling bad again....she had not eaten dinner???well neither had he...but she had
also been in the freezing chill outside, unconscious, and.... AAACCHEW.....n now the cold he thought hearing her sneeze again....he did feel extremely guilty....it was almost
as if he had forgotten that there was a misunderstanding, which he was here to clear out, and if that wasnt cleared then there was no point feeling bad for her....she called for
it....but right then he just looked at her, and couldnt help chidding himself, and kicking himself mentally AAACCHEW...as she sneezed again....

"aryan come with me and get the food for her, and you both move out now, and wash off that mehendi....take a bath and show it to me....wana see how dark it comes"
she said to muskaan and anjali, looking at the latter saying the last part of the sentence with motherly affection..."ridhima, eat n drink that n rest more....i want u to begin
the evening with your dance...." and she pat her on her head, as ridhima smiled back and so did armaan from his position...and they all left the room....

the moment they did
he saw her jump out of the bed, putting the drink aside....and pick up her phone....within seconds the cell in his pocket was ringing....as he fumbled to get it out, she looked around
completely shocked...trying to figure out how...THIS COULD BE???he silenced his cell, and now stood watching her confusion....AAACCHEW..."did i hear that ring or was it AAACCHEW"
..."no no no just my ears ringing, i hate this cold...." she spoke to herself...as she stood with her back armaan now jumped into the room, still not making a sound and as he walked
towards her his pace slowed.....staring at her back....what would he say, why had he not attended her calls....
and then what had made him come here now, this way....sneaking through the window???...he wondered yet again if he shouldnt have asked chris once before doing this..."

she suddenly had that feeling of being watched as she zoomed around he reached her just in time
to cover her mouth just in time n prevent her from screaming...her eyes widened first in terror, then in shock, and then as they settled into a softer unbelieving look
he lowered his hand and whispered "can i ever hope for a normal reaction from u when you see me???" she nodded in a daze, then as his words made sense she frowned
staring at him, not blinking still not sure whether or not she should believe her eyes....

AAACCHEW she sneezed pulling away from his grip and looking away finally....when she looked back she saw the glass with the kaada before her eyes and
he said in a commanding voice "have that...." as she looked at him still not quite sure of how and
what was happening he spoke again "ridzi???are u going to stop staring at me like that???" "what are u doing here????" she said finally finding her voice and mocing the glass
out of the way....he sighed replying "i just got sick of cutting your calls, and thought il come and explain to you in person what it means when you hear the operator says that the
phone is busy and you should TRY LATER...." she looked at him as if he had lost his mind, while he just stared into her emerald eyes which were reddish and watery at the moment
from the cold...her face looked paler than usual too.... AAACCHEW...

she broke the look again, looking away and then suddenly felt his hand on hers, looking back at him she
saw him hand her the glass and he said "have this ridhima....ur cold is headed for the worst....." she looked at him questioningly as he said again "if your mum says you
must have it she must be knwoing best, i would trust her word against yours anytime...." as she looked at him shocked now, wondering how long he might have been there to
have known that conversation he added in a lower solemn voice not looking at her "you should be glad she is with you to exert all those rights on you...." ridhima, who was
going to interrupt closed her mouth hearing the last words....and then just said quietly "ok" and he looked back at her again, surprised at having her agree with him without protest,
n found her staring back....and as they stood for several long moments trying to find answers to their questions in the other's eyes without having to ask, "um sorry, i dint mean
to....." and they both looked up instantly to see aryan, just as he turned around, his back towards them....and he spoke again "i ummmm...i just...." putting the plate on a
side stool close to where he stood without turning he said "just got your food fris....i mean...ridhima..and aunty said make sure u have the kaada....and....ummmm....il leave..."

***************


Part 23~

before either of them could react, aryan left, and then ridhima made to move to get the food, but realized as soon as she turned that armaan was still holding her hand which held
the glass...and she looked at him, to ask him to let her go..."sorry again..."they looked up to see aryan,
not with his back but his eyes shut with one hand this time while the other hand was behind him and ridhima said irritated
"U DONT HAVE TO MONITOR ME ARYAN, I WILL DRINK THAT STUFF OK???" armaan shot ridhima a surprised look at her outburst,
while aryan said in a solemn voice" i know..... armaan will make you have it but i came to give..."

"WHAT???" armaan looked up as ridhima yelled again, and she
continued "u were standing here watching..." aryan interrupted "NO NO NO....hang on frisco....i saw nothing except that you both been standing in the same
pose both times i entered, beyond that i swear on....whatever you want me to, i shut me eyes...." armaan shook his head, rolling his eyes at both of them now and
and said looking at aryan "open your eyes, aryan...." as he was going to protest armaan continued "NOW!!" he lowered his hand and to see armaan approaching him with a serious expression...
he was skeptical of what to expect when armaan said picking up the plate, and taking a bite out of it..."did PM make that food....wow!!" then looking back at an incredulous
arayn he said "WHAT??? this crazy frisco of yours not the only one who hasnt had dinner...." as aryan continued staring, armaan put the plate down and moved the last few steps
between him and aryan, who was completely baffled now, and then felt himself pulled into a hug by armaan...he finally uttered the incoherent words "armaan....u ....i ....what is..." armaan
said not breaking the hug "do you still approve me for her????after my insensitivity and mistrust last night???" as the words dawned upon aryan finally he hugged him back with one hand....

AAACCHEW! they both broke apart hearing her sneeze again while she gave them an indignant 'carry-on-i-dont-exist' look....aryan spoke, in a serious tone "of course man, but there is a condition now..."
as they both gave him a questioning look he continued in a cheeky tone "uncle aunty going to make me the scapegoat, if you change your mind about her....pleasssseee, promise me u wont, ever again,
even when u get your head in place n realize u fell for a mad woman" before armaan could even react he saw a cushion come flying towards them
as aryan pulled him down with himself just in time to see it fall....and aryan said with a mock look of sympathy for armaan "see what i mean???" as ridhima picked up another pillow, aryan moved
swiftly towards her to pull it out of her hands and said "frisco that's gona be bad impression on...."

he stopped as he felt armaan tug at his wrist holding the frame behind his back....he turned around,
and sighing held up the frame to him....as armaan stared at it, his eyes widening, aryan left the room hastily with a "gotta go..." shutting the door behind him.....

as armaan's expression changed from shock to realization to a deep set
frown now, ridhima did not know what to make of it, she asked in a meek voice with anticipation "u didnt like AAACCHEW..." she looked back to see him still staring with a blank frown on his face...
her face fell...and with disappointment in her voice now she she said "i understand.... um sorry...." still not getting a response she gripped it to get it out of his hands saying
"i should have bought...was just trying to do something myself n...."

armaan pulled it back...."what do you think you are doing???" he asked her she looked up n said in a small voice "just
putting it away and..." armaan looked at her angrily now "WHY??? think you're too smart????'MY BELOVED FOREVER' it says and you think um gona let you make that forlorn look and put it away
so u can give that to someone else???...IN YOUR DREAMS....besides i dont see u being lucky enough to have another proposal, that too at the TAJ....so it just wont fit...." he ended matter of factly...
she continued to give him a blank look....he said "ok fine...i'll say it...i also want to keep it cause its awsome..." he grinned at her cheekily....she said in a slightly unsure voice
"u serious???i mean u really..." he interrupted in an earnest voice "honey... i love it..." as she broke into a smile now he continued "and thats it....now i lied twice dont make me do it again"
she opened her mouth to retort AAACCHEW she sneezed again and he laughed...she pulled it out of his hands furious but he pulled it back "i told u sweetheart....keep dreaming you're ever going to give
it to someone else...." she turned looking away her arms folded across her chest pouting her lips in anger....

he grinned at her..."ok game up....seriously....i love it" as her look relaxed a bit he continued kissing her neck n nuzzling in her ear now, in a whisper "simply
mindblowing, and i did not know my lady newton was capable of such beautiful feats..." she turned at his endearing tone to find his face inches away n he continued looking in her eyes "you never cease to astound
me sweetheart, cant think of a better gift i got ever before....n i love...." pulling her close he kissed her forehead and said "MY BELOVED FOREVER" he was shocked as she pulled out suddenly...

AAACCHEW! she
sneezed looking away again...he sighed and pulling her to the bed sat her down, then got up and came back with the glass of kaada..."have it NOW" taking it from his hands she gave it another disgusting look
"u know it tastes like...." seeing armaan's look she shut up, and after a seconds pause just gulped it down shutting her eyes...lowering the glass, she opened her eyes again, making a face and
saw him sitting on his knees holding a bite towards her from the plate in his other hand and he said still commanding "eat..." she opened her mouth and took the bite obediently, and he made the next
one....AAACCHEW he looked up at her grinning now "BLESS YOU...." as she looked at him "you're cold sure a killer...serve u right missy" he added giving her a peck on her nose n chuckling and
as he put the next bite towards her she pushed his hand away and looked at him indignantly now "first: now u remember the BLESS YOU, after iv been sneezing all morning???second: serve me right????all your fault..."

his grin was replaced by a guilty look....and she added in a softer voice immediately "i dint know mum pa were gona do that armaan...you were totally mad at me, right???" he looked up at her....
then looking down and sighing he nodded and said "yeh...but more at myself....dont know what came over me....i should have...." looking up at her again he said "um sorry sweetheart....u never gave me a reason
to doubt you, i should have shown trust..." AAACCHEW as she sneezed again interrupting he said "instead i put u through that rough night and ..." thinking of when he had learnt she was missing "i was
so worried when atul said u were missing, and those pills too...i felt like...." he just looked at her, not knowing how to describe how desperate he had felt at that time....she nodded and pulled his hand up to
eat the bite he had...."aryan and i were just as..." they were interrupted by a knock and before they could react in their panic, they saw the knob turn..."dont kill me before i plead my case for this
third interruption please...."..

"ARYAN???" they both said in unison...and then armaan said..."between the two of u, um sure to die of a heart attack, you guys conniving on that arent you????" as aryan grinned, ridhima glared
at him and then at aryan....ignoring her, armaan added "dude i thought u atleast wanted me alive to save you from her" ridhima rolled her eyes at being stuck between the two of them and AAACCHEW
"aaaaaahhhh i hate this cold...." armaan squeezed her hand giving her a concerned smile and aryan said "well you're not facing half of what i am....minnie still mad at me..." they looked at his worried expression
but he spoke before either of them could "but right now, frisco, aunty was going to come up here to get some stuff, thank god i saw her and volunteered to get the things...." ridhima interrupted
"omg aryan...AAACCHEW"

armaan said shaking his head "bless u,....so what did PM need???" aryan replied looking at ridhima "she said there is some red shagun dupatta on the top shelf in your closet..."
ridhima nodded getting up from the bed "oh yeh there is....hang on il get it out....aryan's cell rang at that moment "atul???" he said and picked it up moving towards the balcony while armaan moved
towards the closet....he entered to see ridhima standing on her toes on a high tripod, just about reaching the top shelf...."see what i meant???ur way too short" he said walking towards her as she was shuffling
stuff around, some of which fell to the ground, trying to reach the shagun dupatta which was lying towards the back side....now standing next to her "u should have let me coach u with basketball in high school,
its good for height....instead of force tutoring me with those laws of....."

AAACCHEW...she sneezed losing her balance as he caught her just in time "attraction" he completed in a shaken voice not having been prepared
for her sudden fall....she opened her eyes slowly which she had shut from the abruptness of the situation to find him looking into them....and seconds later everything around them looked red...before they could realize
aryan spoke "yeh now that looks perfect...i saw u both like that n i was like hmmmm how about the perfect bollywood scene with the dupatta!!!" ridhima got out of armaan's grip and pulled the dupatta off their heads, while aryan
stood grinning at them....armaan scratched his forehead not looking up and ridhima was about to come up with a fumbling answer but aryan spoke again "by the way u guys, ever tried human speech for communication???
as they both looked at him, armaan slowly breaking into a grin, "i mean, its usually more convenient u know than just eye chatting...." ridhima retorted "ur going to regret all these wisecracks the moment i catch u
with ...AAACCHEW.."

aryan laughed and said "oh no please dont catch me with AAACCHEW...a cold, um happier to see you soulmates together...u and ur clinging virus!!!" ridhima glared as armaan added
"he is right honey....um sure he prefers minnie clinging to him instead!!!" aryan shook his head "dont mention that man...for now she all out to kill me....she wont take my calls, not answer my messages...."
then looking up at armaan in sudden hope "maybe i should go climb up the pipe to her room as well,...." then turning to ridhima "what say frisco???does that impress girls???" before ridhima could speak armaan spoke
"i have a better idea....do you have an hour????" aryan nodded....."well lets get going then, we may still catch her at home if we are lucky..." and aryan slapped his head and said "oopz forgot to tell you...atul called to say
they are looking for you at home, ur dad worried as hes been calling you for an hour and leme call atul n check if minnie is at home" saying so he moved out...

armaan quickly pulled his cell out remembering he had silenced it earlier while ridhima said
"n i thought i was the only one who's calls u ignored...why do u even keep that thing with u???" armaan said grinning, while dialing his dad's number
"well glad u figured out i was ignoring the calls, i was wondering if u would ever get the point!!!" as she moved to hit him, he ducked and grabbing
her hand said winking at her "fight to be continued sweetheart..." then pulling her closer he
kissed her on her lips, quickly yet passionately, n letting her go, as she blushed he whispered "love u honey, rest well...."n
he moved out to spot aryan close to the door still on the phone
"lets go man...." armaan said to him and into the phone "hey dad!...." as he moved, aryan followed, looking back at ridhima who still red, smiled n gave him a thumbs up sign....

**************

armaan let out a low whistle as aryan finished narating the evnts from the evening preceeding mehendi night...."and so ridzi's dad heard something, and when PM asked u both about
marriage u thought it was as you were thinking and you both said yes, while she was obviously asking about you both n not us four...." aryan nodded with a sigh "unfortunately yes...
wonder what shashank uncle heard though...." armaan replied "well whatever he did was definitely not what he should have heard...too bad....u know what, i just realized...thats
why PM wanted ridzi to get the A in her hands.....for u....and i didnt even notice it that time...."..."well i did but i assumed that was for u...." armaan nodded n said "ok we're home....
u ready???" aryan gave a nervous nod.....

now as armaan knocked on minnie's door, aryan, standing on beside the wall on the other side where atul was said "guys just so u know, um allergic to roses...."
armaan said in an impatient whisper "dude have u lost
it???why are u telling us???" as atul knocked again saying "minz???open the door kid...." aryan whispered back in a defeated tone
"well you need to know what to not put on my grave just in case she really does...."as the door was opened by minnie "kill me..." he completed....
she looked completely worn out, and not at all her usual chirpy self, as she said surprised to see her two brothers at 8AM, like they had been up and ready for hours now...
her voice a bit hoarse "bhai???armaan???u guys here at...." atul interrupted "did you sleep well kid???" minnie looked at him, then away as the past
evening flashed back and said in a voice as normal as she could get "yeh of course....thats what u came to ask???"

armaan said "actually u left early without telling and were sleeping
when we returned so we were just....worried..." he saw her expression, controlling herself with effort as she said in a quiet voice "yeh...just a headache...nothing serious...." now
armaan said in a careful voice "so ummmm....would this be the cause for ur...ummm...headache??" and he and atul moved aside to reveal aryan
he looked up at minnie, then lowered his eyes, he couldnt bring himself to see her face, in that one glance it was evident how much she had cried all night, n he didnt
think he could bear to see it....

minnie looked, first shocked at seeing him, then at the fact that her brothers got him here....then as realization seeped in she made to shut the door
with force but aryan held it....finally looking at her, he could see the hurt in her eyes as she left it and went back to the room,
nodding at armaan and atul gratefully,as they left, atul giving him a pat and armaan a thumbs up sign....aryan entered the room closing the door behind him after a few quiet seconds
he said "minnie...."she continued pacing the room as she had been since he entered....he moved closer to her and finally, held onto her wrist to stop her....she did not react.....he
came around to face her, and she did not look away,

he said picking his words with care "guess i overestimated u when i thought u match my skill to win..." as she narrowed her
eyes, he patted himself mentally to have hit the right spot then continued in a studied tone "i mean u pushed the door n i held it, u just let it go???lost that easy????" minnie
gave a tired sigh n said "why are u here aryan???" he answered "my question first minnie, when did u start giving up that easy????" as she looked into his eyes, she saw his
double meaning...."when u broke our promise to be a team forever, without a warning....iv forgotten how to fight alone anymore aryan..."

aryan heard her tone, and clenched his fist to control
himself from breaking his composure before he had explained it all..."i thought the team was all about trust between partners minnie..." as she looked up her eyes asking the obvious
question he answered it for her..."yes u should have trusted me despite what u saw n heard....i know u were hurt...and without a warning u say....but u did not think it was fair to
let me explain how i had received no warning either????how just like u i was caught unaware???" minnie was really confused now n her face showed it all....

aryan said "ridhima n i
did not see it coming minnie, just like armaan n u....but um still here to explain myself....for a wrong i havent done....cause i still consider us team, despite my partner making it
obvious that she has no faith in us....cause i dont let go....n i dont give up...." minnie now stared at him, her eyes beginning to fill up....as he looked back, his intensity matching hers
she knew he was honest as ever....and she realized he was right she had not given him, or them a chance....and without a warning aryan pulled her into a hug..."um sorry aryan..." she
said finally breaking into sobs....

and he replied "no sweetheart, um sorry...unintentional though it was, i know what hell i put u through...it was a complete misunderstanding...."
and gently stroking her hair aryan hushed her down gradually...when he finally pulled her apart, she looked at him wiping away her last tears....and he narrated the whole
thing as he had to armaan then pulling her into his arms he said in a solemn voice "i love u minnie....i felt so helplesly broken.....dont ever
let go like that ever again..." minnie replied smiling in a cheeky way now "dont think u gona get lucky again mr. never give up....u missed ur chance to get rid of me.....
now i wont let u go even if u beg me to...." hearing that aryan grinned and pulled her into a kiss, as they parted he said running his fingers through her hair...."aryan never begs....
n i dont ever wana get rid of u...." as she broke into a warm smile he whispered in her ear "n i know um gona regret saying this all my life now..."
busy grinning as he saw her frown from a side look he did not duck in time as she flung a pillow hard on his head.......

************

aryan banged the table for attention, n they all looked up from their ice creams..."can u people give the desert a break....we are trying to sort out a serious mess here"
"aryan is right guys...." said rahul while aryan gave him an exasperated look....he had realized about him and muski earlier that evening when he saw them perform in a group performance,
there were 7 people, n it was no couple dance, but the connection between them did not pass unobserved past his keen eyes...n then rahul had been trying all evening to get into his good
books...agreeing with him for every word he spoke....helping him with arrangements even though he was from the boy's side...
in fact armaan seemed to be on the plan too....he had thought he would give muski a chance to confess herself,

but now as they sat gathered in ridhima's room just post the sangeet night eating ice creams he decided this was getting too far, n he could not take
this cheesy flattery anymore so he said "rahul i will make sure mum dad reject you for muskaan if u dont end this 'butter up the girls brother' mission launched against me right now..."
rahul choked on his ice cream , while the rest of them looked up.....the most shocked of them all being muskaan..."bhai actually i was going to tell...." aryan gave her a sarcastic
smile and said "like after you had kids worth a cricket team???" as muskaan blushed looking down minnie hugged her and glaring at aryan said "ur the limit aryan....dont even spare ur
sister from that awful sense of humor....looking back at rahul she said "when they need to revive the hopelessly critical patients in our hospital they employ the indigenous
ARYAN SHOCK TREATMENT..with those horrible jokes hes made records raising people from their death beds....thats why they havent fired him yet u see...."

as atul n anji high fived
minnie, rahul was at ease again n held muski's hand beneath the table...and she just smiled relaxed, glad the fact was out for the good...aryan meanwile waited for the joke to get over
as armaan who was sitting next to him muttered in his ear chuckling
"n i remember someone warning me about hooking up with a mad woman....looks like we got ladies in close competition buddy" aryan winked back at him "u bet" he whispered

now ridhima who had been beckoned by padma entered the room looking worried....armaan got up and pulled a chair for her next to him...as she sat down still quiet he pushed his
ice cream towards her....and said "i mixed strawberry and coffee today...." she still did not seem to notice....now getting curious,
he put his arm around her shoulder and rubbing it gently he asked in a soft concerned voice "ridzi???what happened honey???" as everyone looked at her she faced him the
tension evident in her eyes..."armaan....i cant do this..." he did not like the sound of her voice....now holding her face in his hands gently stroking her cheeks he asked "do what
sweetheart???" she held his hands cupping her face and said "swati aunty and gaurav uncle want me to call them mum and dad now...."

the very next instant she was shocked by his
reaction as he almost fell off the bed laughing....as much in relief as at her statement....while the rest of them sat grinning and shaking their heads....ridhima glared at them all and as
armaan finally got sober again he said, trying not to laugh seeing her expression now..."gosh honey, u sounded like the physicists worldwide refuted newton's laws...." she glared more as
she said "armaan???u think um trying to be funny here??" armaan nodded then shook his head and said "to be honest honey, i still cant make up my mind about that" as she turned away
furious, she pulled the ice cream he had offered closer and ate a spoonful of it then pushing it back to him she muttered "bad sense of humor, bad taste for ice cream....god???...why
him and me???"

anjali interrupted "time out guys....n ridzi armaan is right, how silly was that???" before ridhima could protest aryan said "il tell mom dad u dont like them enough to call
them that n maybe that will break off our engagement???" as he looked around hopefully minnie said "see why ARYAN SHOCK TREATMENT is successful???" "whats that?" asked ridhima
but armaan interrupted now "forget it for now, seriously folks we have to think of something....we have to tell the elders about this else they will...."he left it at that with a solemn
expression now and sliding off the bed onto the carpet he put his head into ridhima's lap....and closing his eyes said in a low voice "we have to tell them...but how???"

after a few moments of silence aryan said "hey i know what...what if i say i just refuse to marry ridhima saying i love someone else...
and then armaan steps forward and says he will...u know like in the movies...." everyone glared at him while atul said "one little loophole there...why the hell will my mum dad
marry minnie to u after u openly refute the engagement with their newly wed daughter in laws sister????that might be a problem i guess" aryan shook his head "not at all mate...
thats not a problem , its aryan's solution to double problems....armaan gets ridhima and i get freedom from minnie" he stopped chuckling seeing everyone's murderous look
specially minnie's and said "ok fine, i was just trying to lighten the mood here....we can think of a solution without being gloomy a night before the wedding u know" he said....
armaan spoke again, his eyes still shut in the same position....."i think we should tell PM the plain truth she will understand....." "what will u tell me that i have to understnad armaan???"
they all jerked up to see the door.....as their eyes confirmed their ears recognition of voice....PADMA STOOD AT THE DOOR....

**************


~Part 24~

"so that option is ruled out too???" said ridhima in a dismayed voice...then continued in a tired yet desperate tone "but we have to do something...c'mon aryan...ur the idea dude
here....always telling me how aryan's ideas never fail...." ...." and aryan doesnt give up...." added minnie immitating aryan's style of quoting that line...he shot her a sarcastic smile....
and then turning to ridhima he added "thanks frisco for enlightening us here, or we would have never in our dreams guessed that we need to find a way out....which in fact seems
to be exactly what ur loverboy has been doing for the past one hour....." as ridhima shot him an indignant look he finished "dreaming of a solution...."

now she blushed profusely.....
and getting conscious of everybody's sudden attention towards her she jerked her hand away, with which she had been ruffling armaan's hair as he slept away peacefully
his head in her lap....she opened her mouth to defend him, but not knowing how to just mumbled quietly "he must be tired...." while struggling to get free from his grip around her
waist, without making it obvious to the rest....rahul chuckled and said "yeh thats typically him.... post few sleepless nights, courtesy exams or tournaments, he goes off for his
long lasting slumber, and then he sleeps like a log, like hes on drugs, never cares where or when...."

atul quipped now "well this time he sure was particular of where he dozed off...." resting his own head on anjali's
shoulder as ridhima blushed profusely now, cursing armaan in an undertone for embarassing her so, atul continued "lover's paradise!!!" and let out a sigh....everyone broke into a
laugh while anjali said pushing atul off...."u stop teasing ridzi....and by the way, its past midnight now, i have to get going...." as she made to get up atul said holding
onto her wrist "but why sweetheart???" giving her an innocent look and anjali batting her eye lashes at him said in a sugar coated voice "well honey, the bride n the groom are not
supposed to meet now..." pulling her hand out of his grip "until the wedding" finishing off in a stern voice she laughed at his expression and then turning to the others she added "i really
should leave before mum comes in here to get me....and then u lot might have to disperse earlier than needed without a master plan...." saying so she moved out swiftly giving atul
a quick peck on his cheek and saying goodnight to the rest....

atul caught by surprise now came out of his frenzy and getting up said...."i will...ummm...just....see you at home later"
he finally finished looking at minnie and rahul, and winking at ridhima he added "hopefully i will see him too, at OUR house, tonight itself, unless ofcourse....." and he left it at that
grinning, as aryan hi fived rahul laughing, hearing the comment and catching ridhima's look, n she made a go at him trying to punch him....but in the process she moved too
fast for the the comfort of a sleeping armaan....

so much to her horror she felt his grip tighten around her as he muttered unconsciously...."PM, i love her so ...."
before he could sleeptalk anything further, ridhima cupped his mouth, giving them all a deeply embarrased guilty smile, and glaring at an unaware armaan who continued sleeping
...as rahul and aryan had rolled off the bed, doubling away in laughter.... and muski said in between her uncontrolled giggling "OOOOHHHHHH....PM i love her soooooooo much"
and aryan mimicked "i cant live without her PM...." and minnie added "aryan is a bad boy PM...its just me for your daughter..." and rahul finished "can i marry her PM???" and they
broke into a fresh burst of laughter seeing ridhima's priceless mix of expressions....

as ridhima giving up on the situation,
now put her focus into waking up armaan before she had to face anymore mockery alone..."armaan wake up.." she muttered through clenched teeth,
shaking him not quite gently, he simply held the hand she was shaking his face with, n she looked around for...perhaps water, finding nothing close she looked back at him frowning
but as the others, still not over there lame jokes laughed all over the room, her eyes stopped at his face...her frown changed slowly to a smile as she admired his features...he was
of course extremely good looking there was no denying that....but this was the first time she was seeing him this way, when he wasnt talking, commanding teasing or flirting
with her....just innocently himself.....he had a small frown, his air were messy as she had been ruffling them which had perhaps been the factor to put him to sleep,
but they were adding to his charm, if that was even possible....and she felt like she never wanted to free her hand from his hold, as he clutched onto her fingers tightly.....

she was jerked out of the daze, as aryan trying to duck from minnie's hit
tumbled over armaan's legs, almost falling, saved by muskaan the last moment, and the hard hit finally woke up armaan...."ooowww" he said holding his leg, his eyes half closed
which he rubbed with the other hand, until he finally, after several moments looked at the commotion his eyes fully open....now he frowned scanning the whole room edge to
edge, and then getting up with a hasty jerk , surprising everyone espcially ridhima, he rushed to the door, and looked outside on both sides of the hallway.....rahul quipped
in an amused tone "ammy, just incase u did not realize bro, ridzi is inside the room, who the hell are u looking for now???"

armaan turned around scratching his head..then giving
everyone in the room a confused look he said..."where's PM???" after moments of silence ridhima was the first one to find her voice..."armaaaaan???? is this ur idea of a joke????
first u sleep off when u should helping us think a plan....." then lowering her voice to a complaining embarrased tone "then u sleeptalk giving these jerks the perfect joke for
the evening....n now, if that wasnt mockery enough, U ACT LIKE U COMPLETELY LOST IT???" she finished, just short of yelling...

armaan thoroughly puzzled now rambled on again "but....wasnt she just...
i told her about us and she....wait....what did u say???" he said finaly turning to ridhima who folding her arms across her chest gave him a meaningful warning look...n he said
repeating her words "i slept off???" ridhima shrugged shooting him the 'thank-heavens-u-finally-got-it' look....he paced the room twice as the others watched him, following his strides
til he bothered to explain himself....after about a minute he stopped and sat by ridhima's side and in a thoughtful voice he said "oh so i slept off..."
this set off aryan and rahul into fits of laughter again while ridhima muttered sighing n looking at him "BINGO!"
he gave her a sheepish look and said "oh...ummm i...sorry did not realize..."

then as rahul and aryan got back to normal
again, he stood up before anybody could say anything and announced..." i...ummmm...i need to grab some coffee...." then looking back at ridhima who gave him an incredulous look
he spoke, pleading his case with his eyes "will u help me fix a cup of it, honey???" and without really waiting for her to refuse he grabbed her wrist urging her to make a move....and
aryan said grinning "make that a pot of coffee instead...we all need some, and unlike u we did not really catch that dreamy nap!!!"

armaan nodded moving to the door and ridhima hurried out behind him before they could provoke more jokes....as they left rahul said more seriously "he must really love her..."
as aryan shot him a questioning look he explained "the only person i ever saw him sleep talk about in all these years was his mum....he usually just sleeps off, a dreamless sleep..."
they all smiled....then minnie said "focus guys....the night is gonna fade away.....we seriously a plan of action...."

***********

"what was all that about armaan???" said ridhima running up to catch up with him...."what???" he said looking at her...pausing in her stride, causing armaan to stop and look back
at her she said "how could u sleep off like that???i mean u really just slept off???n like all that racket we were making???u did not hear a thing?????" armaan grinned at her
unbelieving tone then he grabbed her hand and interlocking her fingers with his made her move along and replied "exactly....its god gifted u see...um a focussed guy...focussed on
work, focussed on fun, focussed on sleep"....and then raising her hand held in his, kissing it looking at her fand "focussed on one single mad woman...." he finished winking at her....

she blushed, and looked around, she saw to her relief the corridors were empty for now,
mostly everyone trying to catch whatever little sleep they could, for nobody could rest much the followind day, the wedding day
until perhaps quite late in the night after all the rituals were complete....now turning to him indignantly she said "u are the one with god gifted madness, n um the mad woman here???
oh i see...but of course um mad...to be in love with u can only possibly indicate absolute lack of sanity on my part..."

she realized her attempted taunt had failed as he, letting go of her hand, pulled her closer with his arm around her waste, and
kissing her head said "wow honey!now thats a critically analysed confession of love coming from u....um learning slowly how much i have been underestimating ur creativity!!!"she
shook her head hopelessly.....could she ever win against him...."no u cant" he grinned replying her unworded question...."armaan never plays to lose remember???"

then having
reached the kitchen he perched himself on the shelf n said in a commanding voice "sir benz would like a strong coffee please...." she could not help grinning at him
"would ur highness want me to add some strawberry whipped cream on the top???" she said teasing him, while pulling out the pot from the cupboard without turning on any lights,
as the faint glowing streak from the stairs by the side seemed enough for the required visibility for them.... and set the caffeine for brewing
....he chuckled....then said "no coffee will do for now um trying to adapt to my sweetheart's not quite sweet tastes...."

with everything fixed she connected the pot wire
and then got a covered tray out of the refrigerator and handed it to him...."thats the left over of ur strawberry pie...." as he grabbed it eagerly she grinned and said "so why
did u think mum was in the room when u woke up????" finishing his piece he said..."well i...i duno when exactly i slept off....tell me something...does aryan finally know about
reg n muski or did i dream that???" ridhima nodded saying "well i came into the room later remember???but u didnt dream that, he knows...." armaan biting off the next piece said
"thats great then...."

then offering her the tray he said "u sure u dont want any...." as she shook her head he said "awsome, i dont like sharing...." ..."ur strawberry
desert" ridhima completed "i know that armaan..." he smiled at her as she grinned shaking her head....putting the tray aside he turned ridhima to face him....
n cupping her face in his hands he said still smiling at her "u know what....ur the best...." ridhima was touched by his sudden statement and smiling
back she said "hmmmm" then in a teasing tone "i hope not just cause i can bake a strawberry pie!!!"

he shook his head grinning and looking down then looking back at her he bent
forward to rest his forehead against hers and whispered his eyes shut lightly...."i lov u ridzi....its just not me anymore...i mean not the armaan i was...its an absolute transformation...
and life just feels like it started all over again....i...i never thought i would feel this way.....i mean...u know when mum...i mean...i just never knew how much i was missing out on living
life these last few years...." then opening his eyes and having grown accustomed to the limited light he saw crytal clear as she gazed at him, hanging onto every word that left his lips,
he continued, now looking back into her emerald eyes....

"n to think
i was going to just let it all go last night....i was being such a....jerk....i cant believe i did that....just an announcement and...."then pulling back slightly n looking away he said in a
self reproaching voice "u know i saw that painting u made for me last night itself...." ridhima raised her eyebrows in a surprised look n he went on before she could question..."but
in the dim lights i dint see the picture of Taj, and just read the words....n then...u know cause u and aryan had said...that it was for him...from u....i mean i just....." he ran his hand through
his hair and sighed then looking at her again he found her poised, and calm...."well i really believed in those moments that u betrayed me.....
ridzi it was.....just....i let our love down....n "

now ridhima stepped forward and put her finger on his lips "ssshhhh honey...thats it...." as he looked into her eyes silenced she spoke
"i dont want any more explainations about this armaan...
frankly speaking, i am not sure of how i would have reacted if i were you...but i dont see how i would have just taken it all normally either....i mean we were both shocked n hurt....
but i just felt desperate to get to you once, it was just this inevitable need within to see u, n tell u that none of
it was true...to be honest i did not think u would believe it was true..but i did think u would need me to assure u more than ever that i loved u....now that u talk
about the painting um seeing a whole new point....i dont even know if i can say that i understand what it must have felt like to u....cause iv never felt cheated, least of all by u....
n i know i will never live to see such a day...."

pausing and caressing his cheek with one hand she resumed whispering moren tenderly
"whatever it was...its over....n perhaps we needed this...u know...i
always had this feeling that we got together too soon..." seeing him shoot her a frowning look she she shook her head vigourously "i mean i knew i loved u, n u loved me....but we did
not take the time to really know each other....n that is sort of as essential for me, as love itself....but this whole thing, in one night, has proved that we understand each other....
we are both human, and make mistakes, but the point is, we care enough to resolve the issues....if i ever had any doubts about how different we both are essentially, n how long we
would manage together, the past 24 hours have cleared them all....."

as she paused, armaan just pulled her into a hug....and he said "i promise, never again, no misunderstanding,
no doubts...." as then pulling her out of the hug he realized her eyes were moist glistening in the dim glow about them,
as she looked down....he smiled and lifting her face, gently kissed her on her lips....."i love u armaan" she said passionately,
their lips brushing close, her fingers in his hair as she urged him to not break the moment her eyes still closed....and he kissed her deeply this time.....and she responded with
the same passion.....

as they broke apart, she lowered her gaze turning around, and he hugged her from behind so she was resting against his chest, and smelling her hair he kissed them closing his eyes
the after a few moments she sighed and causing him to open his eyes and he whispered in her ear "what happened princess???"
she replied "mum and pa still dont know about us armaan...." he turned her around and she was surprised to see him smiling "actually that was my dream....i found us all a solution"

then before she could ask him he said "perhaps u should check on the coffee and if its done, we all have something to discuss together...."
she nodded and moved out of his arms and after a moment she said "just done"....armaan can u get the cups from the chest under the shelf ur sitting on???
there are 6 of them in there....be careful dont drop them please...." armaan jumped off the shelf n said with a light bow "of course my lady....my honor to be of service to you
....the man is all but yours...."....and as he opened the drawer, he smiled hearing her words between her giggling
"gosh armaan....u make it all sound so......never mind....i love it anyways...."

*************


~Part 25~

aryan was pacing the room as they entered inside, while minnie was saying "that is hardly a point we can overlook aryan..." who nodded....rahul said, seeing the two of them enter
"there comes the sleeping beast n his beauty...the coffee better beat starbucks, u guys took like ages...." muskaan and minnie giggled forgetting their frowns, but aryan just picked up
his cup and continued pacing armaan picked his cup too, and then as aryan neared him, he stopped him....but before he could speak ridhima said "armaan has a masterplan..." almost
with an edge of pride to her voice as if telling them all that all the mocking went in vain....aryan spoke up "really???awsome dude...we sure need one, nothing seems like
it would be a perfect plan....its such a mess....n i still cant think of what shashank uncle heard to misunderstand us so completely...."

armaan took a deep breath nodding and said
in a poised voice..."there isnt a master plan...." as ridhima looked up at him shocked and started off "but u said in the kitchen...." he interupted "that i have a solution for us all....."...
minnie looked up from her coffeen said in a morose tone "before u say anything armaan, i should let u know its not going to be fun for ridhima or me as Indian girls to elope with
our lovers....it isnt quite as accepted in here, as it might be in the west...." armaan looked at her incredulously, then rolling his eyes he said almost offended "minnie???
what makes u think i was going to suggest eloping....n um officially only half indian....but essentially more indianized than u will ever know....anyways the last thing on my mind was
running away from the problem....i said i have a solution not an escape route....."

he continued waiving away the thought that she seriously
had believed he would even suggest it...."my solution actually is just the opposite....look we are all mature n of age....." ridhima interrupted "eloping and self decided court marriage is
equally bad idea armaan...." now armaan glared at her...."WHAT'S THE PROBLEM WITH U GIRLS.....ALL I AM SAYING IS WE SHOULD JUST TALK STRAIGHT TO THE ELDERS....WE DONT NEED
A PLAN....WE JUST NEED TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH THEM.....THEY NEED TO KNOW FACTS....WE OWE THEM THE TRUTH....N IF I AM EVEN REMOTELY CLOSE TO ANALYZING THEM THEY
WILL UNDERSTAND......" now both ridhima and minnie gave him a sheepish look, while rahul held onto his shoulder to calm him down aryan suddenly hugged him taking him completely
by surprise n said in an excited voice "OMG armaan...dude ur a genius!!! thats it...ur right why didnt i think of it...love u man...ur a god sent angel....."

armaan's sudden outburst
transformed to a small smile at aryan's reaction...as they broke apart aryan said giving minnie and ridhima an angry look..." n u both????trusting us with ur whole lives, but not with a
solution..." looking back at armaan still mad at them he added "women i tell u....impossible...." armaan now broke out laughing forgetting his offense at the girls' comments,
and patting aryan he said "ur a cardiolist right???aptly so....
ever thought of trying psychiatry though?????another good option!!!" aryan now grinned as well and putting his arm around armaan's shoulder he said in a matter of fact way looking at
minnie and ridhima who looked visibly guilty..."i didnt have to be a medic for that dude....
psychiatry is something each guy has to master, how else in the world do u expect to manage god's most complex creation!!!" rahul nodded and looking at muskaan said "point bro...."
but even before muskaan could speak up aryan said "u r not alowed to say that, since its my sister ur talking about...."
in a stern voice and armaan broke out laughing again seeing rahul's
expression change to an apologetic one....ridhima looked at them disgusted now n said "dam these guys....perfect male chauvanists...."
and minnie added nodding "yeh first they go hitting on anything
in a skirt....n when they finally meet the one who can match their nerve they call her unmanagable.....
n if someone says te same about their sister they have an issue with that....n supposedly we are
the ones god made complex here...." ridhima added glaring at them, as they looked far from guilty, in fact amused
"any more wisdom u want to impart to us girls, the not quite enlightened lot????"...

before they could speak muskaan interupted...."time out guys...." giving rahul a side
glare she continued "much as id like to add my opinion in here, i think we need to postpone this discussion....i second what armaan suggested....u four need to talk to the elders....
bhai didnt u say thats what you did for atul anji too to get yourself out of the scene???" aryan nodded and said "yeh funny i didnt think of it now....
but u know this case is more complicated anyways...." as they looked at him he got up pacing the room again "this time talking will be harder....first, they accepted our decision once
getting a second approval is going to obviously be..... second this time they actually took ridhima n my consent....well they thought they did....and even made a public announcement
.....u know its not just in the family now, i mean its fine when it will eventually work out but, well not that easy n straight....its a sensitive topic more than ever, and we need to handle
this the right way....." he paused and ridhima spoke now looking at no one in particular just staring somewhere mid air, almost as if to herself "i know mum pa will understand....but this
whole misconception....i wish it had never been....i mean its sounds so unreal a situation....it was a public announcement n now....it will be....
cant believe such a simple thing has turned so complex...." she didnt complete, her voice low, reflecting a whole new set of emotions....
as her mind raced with thoughts....i was just thinking about armaan n me till last night....n how to resolve the confusion....
but aryan is right....it isnt as simple as an all in the family thing anymore...how did it skip me....i hope this wont get humiliating for mum and pa....god....
please forgive me if i pain them....this is such an uncalled for mess....she was brought out of her chain of thoughts as armaan, who saw her face expressions rapidly changing held her
hand looking at her, with nothing but concern in his eyes...

and she said looking at him....then facing aryan "u think they will be hurt aryan????....i mean this will get....quite awkward
for them right???and....i hope they understand that we are not being insensitive...." aryan said sounding a bit skeptical himself "they love us ridhima....they will understand.....they
just have..." minnie spoke up now "i dont deny any of what u both are saying but i think our focus, i mean our primary focus for now should be to put facts before them first...facing
the world and the rest of the family is secondary i mean if they know n approve then they will obviously help us manage that too, we are not alone in it anymore after that right????"
armaan nodded and said "exactly"....squeezing ridhima's hand supportively while aryan said..."so should we talk to them all tomorrow itself???"

armaan shook his head this time and said
"bad idea....its a big day for the families, and we cant ruin it for atul and anji as we dont know what instantaneous reaction the news is likely to receive....secondly.... i duno if u three will
agree with this...but i was thinking..." pausing he gave a chuckle and they all looked at him giving him a weird look "i mean i was dreaming, and concluded, that it might be a good idea to
talk to PM alone first..." looking at aryan he said "i dont know ur mum n dad that well aryan, so u and ridhima have the final decision about this, but it appears to me that PM will
understand us easiest, and then, though we still have to face them all eventually, we may not have to be the ones to break the news to all four of them, and minnies mum dad as well....
u know what i mean????perhaps if PM is part of us helping us with explaining out things to the rest of the elders, it will simplify our task here????" minnie nodded, aryan looked at
him appreciatively but as he faced ridhima he could not read her expression....she nodded, it appeared to him she was agreeing, but there was some other thought in her mind and
he wondered what....later he told himself, for if she wanted to express it before eveybody she would have spoken up....

aryan said now "ok so its all set then...we wait for the wedding
to get through...and Padma aunty is the one we talk to...atleast for now....ur right armaan....she asked ridhima n me for our consent despite, as i assume must have been the case,
shashank uncle convincing her that ridhima n i are in love....even when we had dealt with the atul anji issue she had been instrumental....yeh it should be her, good thinking...."
rahul said in a lighter tone "good dreaming u mean...PM i love her sooooooooooo much" he finished chuckling and they all broke into smiles and giggles, lightening the atmosphere...
for the first time that evening, muskaan noticed her brother looking at rahul, as they hi fived, with an approving look as if indicating he was glad rahul broke the tense spell....
she smiled...what more could she wish for, aryan and rahul getting along well was perfect now only for mum dad to give their consent and bhai would manage that,

almost as if reading her thoughts aryan said "and we have to talk about muski n rahul as well...which should hardly be tough, since uncle n dad are friends
way back from their undergrad days when they were room mates in the dorm..." she blushed as her brother quoted her mind....and rahul smiled thankfully at aryan, and then at muski...
getting up he said "well we should get going then...minnie???armaan??" they all looked reluctant at the thought of dispersing and armaan unconsciously tightened his grip on
ridhima's hand causing her to look up at him, ending in a shy smile......while rahul said giving them both one hand each to get up..."after all these three should get enough sleep,
lest they lose all the games from the boys side tomorrow and blame it on lack of rest!!!"

"in your dreams sweetheart" said muskaan giving him a sugar coated challenging smile,
while he smiled back repeating in a daze "sweetheart...." he almost lost his balance as both armaan and minnie tugged onto his hands at that moment to pull themselves up, and
armaan said "gotcha!" grinnng he added " in that daze of a charming smile, i foresee u fighting nothing but a lost battle bro!!" and they moved to the door....ridhima got up gathering
the coffee cups, muskaan helping her along..while aryan just sat n as minnie turned to look bak from the door, he blew her a kiss winking....armaan walked alongside with ridhima and
seeing her thoughtful expression he asked in a whisper audible to her alone..."what now princess??leave the worry off n enjoy anji's wedding....aryan n i will manage...trust me..."

ridhima looked into his eyes, then breaking into a smile she nodded and replied "i trust u armaan...i was just...u dont even know mum that well....n its like u bond with her as if
u knew her all ur life......its just something i always hoped for....duno how to explain what um trying to say but its just....".."sssshhhh" armaan silenced her and said...."leme guess...
its perhaps the way i felt when dad n u talked on the phone that night n then i pestered him to tell me the whole conversation.....and the way u could tell dad about the mistaken
engagement even before i knew....the way u did not even wait to think whether he would take your word for it or not, u just knew he would, and he did....
its the same with me n PM....i dont even have an inkling of hesitation in telling her the truth...n i havent stopped to think if she would understand me or not....i just know she will.....
think that might be what u wana describe????"

ridhima's smile reached her eyes, and she whispered barely audible even to him "il never know what i did to deserve u armaan....."
armaan smiling at her thought, um yet to uncover that for myself yet honey....then as they reached the kitchen, armaan just before following minnie and rahul to the main door gave
ridhima a quick peck on her cheek and mumbled "sweet dreams honey"

**************

ridhima stood smiling looking at nothing for moments even after he had left until muskaan said "duno how long
u decided to play statue but um going to hit the bed now....good night!!!...ridhima moved hastily hearing the words, and leaving the stuff for washing went back to her room...which was
empty now.....tired from the last few long days, she decided to hit the bed too, but she had to wake up early, she started fixing the morning alarm on the music system.....
each morning was the same, the 6AM radio show would wake her up.....as she was fixing it, the late night show still playing, she stopped as she heard the track....it wasnt her favorite in
the least but she increased the volume as the words now sprang up to her in a different way and her smile deepened with each second...

"thaare vaaste de denge jaan ve
thaare vaaste dil hai kurbaan ve
love you, i love you jaana, tu hi armaan ve
thaare vaaste de denge jaan ve
thaare vaaste dil hai kurbaan ve"

as the chorus repeated itself in the girls voice she started singing along with it, shaking her head, and doing the taps to the dance beats in the song.....
as she sang the line "love you, i love you jaana, tu hi armaan ve" she
started twiriling round and round in a daze.....their first dance at halloweens...the library clash, the flight to delhi....the time she saw him outside her bedroom on the day of shagun....
the agra trip....gosh how could she ever forget that....it had changed everything in her life....the radio game and dare....the evening distress...she remembered how he had told her
about his mumher smile turning slightly sad as her twirling slowed down too....n then she thought about the confession that followed....and her smile was boundless again...and she sung
with the chorus again as it repeated after perhaps a para....

"love you, i love you jaana, tu hi armaan ve
thaare vaaste de denge jaan ve
thaare vaaste dil hai kurbaan ve"

"LOVE U ARMAAAAAN" she said still twirling as images flashed from tonight....their dances, the fun, the antkashari rounds....and she sang on, not quite conscious of the lyrics
now doing the dance steps, with expressions befitting the words leaving her lips, singing to every stuff toy she could find in sight, holding some of them, n hugging others...
and to her own image in the mirror as she danced past it

"tujhe paake mitati hai meri tanahaayiya
mere khwaabon mein rehati teri rubaiyaan
meri aahon mein kya hai, teri hi khwaayishe
aa puri karde karde meri farmaayishe
tera tera tera charcha, hai meri meri har baat mein
tu hi tu hi basati hai, basati hai mere jasbaat mein"

and then she twirled all around the room, going in fast circles....and still singing though out of breath now, somewhat with the singing but more with her excitement and the consistent
moves, especially the twirling.....

"love you, i love you jaana, tu hi armaan ve
thaare vaaste de denge jaan ve
thaare vaaste dil hai kurbaan ve
love you, i love you jaana, tu hi armaan ve"

and starting to get a bit dizzy now she still went round in circles but slowing down as the chorus repeated itself the final time, she sung
"thaare vaaste de denge jaan ve
thaare vaaste dil hai kurbaan ve"

shutting her eyes to take the dizziness
away, and an image of their kiss from the kitchen an wile ago flashed through her head making her blush as she sung the last line, her voice hardly audible as she mouthed the words
"love you, i love you jaana, tu hi armaan ve" finally coming to a slow halt, her eyes still shut, completely out of breath, but the smile not leaving her lips for a second....adn then she
opened her eyes startled as she felt lips brush upon her own, and her eyes and mind hardly registered as he spoke looking into her eyes "n armaan loves u princess" not
able to absorb the scene, and still breathless from the dancing her eyes widened with a blank look as he swiftly left the room picking a bunch of keys from the dresser and
showing them to her to explain his sudden intruding appearence, winking at her just before he disappeared from sight....in the moments that followed her expressions changed from
a comprehending look, to an embaressed look, and then she shut her eyes slapping her forehead, and then sliding down on the carpet resting against the bed she blushed the deepest
she could ever have....then hugging her knees close she said in an embaressed voice still blushing "oh man...." and then she hid her face in her knees...the smile never left her for
a second.....

*************

rahul glanced towards the back seat at minnie giving her a questioning look and she just shrugged with a mischievous smile, and they quietly hi fived....although they both felt they
could yell at that moment and go completely unobserved by the third member in the car, who had been driving for the past 25minutes in silence his face reflecting the spell he was under,
he smiled without a seconds break...sometimes grinning, then shaking his head, ruffling his hair.....looking at nothing in particular as his head was undoubtedly
flooded with his someone special's thoughts....

gosh! she was so....out of the world he thought....and he remembered her xpressions as she sang to her stuffed toys, and then as she
went in circles all round the room her dress....it had followed her beat, its pleats flowing in a circle, and the thing in her neck, dupatta???sweeping the whole room within its
reach as it too followed her circling moves....and her words resounded in his mind, like that sweet addictive sound and he felt like he never would want to hear anything else so
that the essence of those words would last forever....love u armaaaan....and he saw her blushing face, her smile, her eyes shut...perfect...

but how could life be perfect too long
for at that moment he almost hit the car ahead of him as he heard a scream in his ears "ARMAAAAAAAN!!!" and rahul steared it out of the hit in the bare minimum final seconds....
he gave up his impulse to yell at the voice which had broken his chain of thoughts as he realized with shocked widening eyes
what had just almost happened...screeching to a halt on the side dirt laneand then as he heard rahul speak, pretty close to a yell....
he did not dare look up at either of them in a car...."DUDE???U GOT THE WHOLE NIGHT TO DREAM ABOUT HER....CAN U GET US BACK HOME ALIVE FOR NOW????
U MAYBE CONTENT WITH HAVING A GIRLFRIEND, BUT IN NO MODD TO DIE A BACHELOR....I WANT A WIFE....DO U UNDERSTAND????" armaan nodded with a sheepish look and muttered
"sorry i was just...." minnie interrupted "thinking about ridzi we know....thats hardly news....but can u focus on the road for the remaining 10minutes of the drive back home somehow???
what did u guys do in those less than 5minutes anyways when u went back to collect the car keys????" then looking at rahul she added still a bit shocked, but with an added mocking
tone "i wonder if he just made up that lame excuse of having forgotten the keys inside anyways...."

as rahul nodded giving armaan a glare he finally looked up with a genuine shocked look
and said "minnie???!!! i really did forget the keys it was no excuse for heavens sake...n i said um sorry, il drive carefully now...n i wasnt thinking about her i was...." minnie retorted
in a sarcastic voice now "yeh right bhai....if u were not thinking about her, then um more alarmed than ever, i better give her a call n tell her to keep a tab on u n find out who could
distract u to this extent if not her....that doesnt sound like good news for her...." as she ended in a stern voice armaan sighed and clenching his hands in desperation since he wasnt
quite in a position to retort after that narrow escape he said in a controlled calm voice "i meant it wasnt she as her....i mean it was...." pausing to think what he should say he started
the car and with a sudden thought he said "actually...its this hindi song...ummmm...i was wondering if u could translate it for me....since the lyrics were way beyond my level of hindi
understanding...."

muskaan gave him a 'have u lost it look' while rahul said now in a concerned tone "dude????are u ok????u almost hit that car ahead of u trying to translate a hindi
song????" looking upwards he continued "omg...what has happened to him....what will i tell chris uncle...." then turning back to armaan he said feeling his head "there must be a bump
where did u bang ur head ammy....c'mon try to remember the doctors ask for case history when its an injury u know....omg...." and armaan pushed his hand off his hair
and said the irritation obvious now "reg!!!stop it man um fine....its just this song ridzi...um ridzi mentioned....she likes it....so i ...um i was just .....thinking i should atleast try understanding
what it means, right???" he ended trying to sound convincing while rahul still looked at him suspiciously, anticipating head injury....minnie interrupted "whats the song???" armaan started
eagerly "well its one of those dance beat songs n goes like..." he stopped....

he only remembered the 'love u jaana...' line....but he couldnt possibly tell them that he thought dreading even the thought
the mockery he would face after that...."goes like what???" asked minnie interupting him again....he said after a moment, a bit unsure..."well i cant really sing, i mean i dont know the
song and....oh but i know it has the word ARMAAN in it....." he said in a hopeful voice...rahul sniggered at that, while minnie said smirking "wow bhai!!!awsome identification mark.....
except that u r obviously unaware of how desirable the indian lyricists find your name apt to its meaning a desire!!!...every third song has that word...."...armaan gave a solemn look
and said "oh...like that....oh but i know the word is in the chorus...does that help???"

minnie shook her head smiling at his reaction and said "well its still pretty hard....do u remember
the tune????" as armaan was going to reply rahul interrupted "minnie why dont we just call ridhima and ask her???" to which armaan immediately said "no no no....no need for that...i
ummm...i...yeh i remember the tune" and he hummed it, remembering it quite precisely as it rung through his head, anyways he was a music professional, and usually he never forgot a
tune he liked even if he heard it just once....n this was the last one he could forget.....minnie rolled with laughter hearing the tune....as armaan stared at her from the rearview rahul
turned around and said concerned "oh man...whats with this song???first armaan losing it, now minnie too....are u alright minz????" she nodded still giggling...and the finally spoke up
"oh i see why she likes THIS SONG....love u i lov u jaana tu hi armaan ve...." and singing that she doubled up laughing again,

while rahul now grinned too, and armaan just tried to concentrate
on the driving, but it was hard, as minnie sung the song between her endless giggles and he couldnt drive away flashes os ridhima dancing to it....he blushed deeply.....smiling and frowning
at the same time....and minnie said "sure i can explain the song bhai....but i have a suggestion, why dont u ask ridhimaaa BHAAABHI to translate it for u instead???she might be able to
demonstrate....and explain better u know....what i mean...." and she broke into a fresh spell of laughter, and rahul too laughed out loud, while armaan, finally pulling into the driveway
glared at them and said louder to be heard over their racket..."see why i wanted to kill u both in a car crash???next time i swear i will do it....." with that he walked off keys still i the
ignition leaving them both helpless with laughter, n turning around he shook his head then grinning he muttered "see what um going through honey????all ur fault...."

*************


~Part 26~

"i dont know what to say riddeeema....this is just....i havent felt so special in ages....u know how boys are, they work on surprises only for the women in their life....armaan calls
me each year....hasnt even woken up yet to do that so far this time...but thats it....this is just....i cant say a thank you and finish off expressing how touched i am...." ridhima
moved forward and hugged chris....then pulling away she said "i would be offended dad, if u said thank u for this....you n pa are same for me....n i really wanted to do this for u....
i wasnt sure of the flavor....but i wanted this to be a surprise and forgot to ask armaan about your favorite last night....so i baked both the cakes in pa's favorite flavor blueberry...
do you like it anyways???"


they both turned around to hear a half sleepy drawl "its his favorite....guess its a universal dad flavor" and they saw a sleepy armaan walk towards
them....ridhima stared at him as he entered....black vest n a navy blue pj, his hair an absolute mess, and his expressions and walk slack.....perhaps his least presentable form even though he wasnt straight out a bed, since the hair falling over his forehead onto his eyes were wet.....he must have freshened up just a bit though the look was essentially unruly....and still, he
looked like a hunk girls would kill for....she was wondering still in awe of his overtly visible well built physique, how a star n lord like him
fell in love with a tech loving not quite the fluttery girl
like her when his next words answered why...


"happy fathers day dad" he said giving chris a bear hug.....his voice like a little boy as he said those words,
and his expressions showing his heartfelt
sentiments even with closed eyes which spoke volumes...with the countless differences between them, they both had a big common....they both cared about their loved ones, more than anything else....interrupting her emotional thoughts he asked looking at chris breaking out of the hug, then at her and then at the cake...."so i guess i interrupted a moment here huh???" chris nodded
speaking before ridhima answered "yeh as usual...first u did that between me n my love....n now between me n my daughter.....il bet u heard her speak even deep in ur dreams and couldnt stand me
getting greater attention from her than u, huh dude????"


armaan gave a mock horrified look and said "u mean um jealous???of course not dad...she my girl....why would i be jealous of u??"

n then turning to ridhima he said making a face "n u already making points over me before dad???couldnt u say the cake was from both of us???"...."that's what she said, but now i know

she was just covering up for u...." said chris giving him a mock offended look with arms folded across his chest...."oh!..ummmm..." said armaan giving ridhima a sheepish look.....


ridhima picked up the knife now n pointing it as a warning towards armaan who swiftly moved out of her way, she handed it to chris and said "um dad's girl always....u stay out of this
.....why dont u go ahead n cut the cake dad....um glad u like blueberry too...i do a decent job with them, although mum remains unsurpassed in baking anything with blueberries....
pa claims thats what made him fall in love with her!!!" laughing chris cut the cake, armaan n ridhima on either side of him hugged him together,
n he thought..miss u sweetheart, wish u were here to be a part of our perfect family....

**************


"so what did u say for coming with a blueberry cake here early morning???" asked armaan as he walked her out to beyond the driveway where her car was parked..."i said i was coming to give dad a cake....for father's day...." armaan gave her an incredulous look..."u said that to ur parents???" she nodded then shaking her head she clarified "i said chris uncle to them of course..."


armaan rolled his eyes and said "i mean u told them it was for dad...i mean my dad....n they didnt react????like i mean....for them how much do u even know dad???" ridhima thought for a moment and then said "yeh well they could have thought that way...but i guess they didnt, neither did i....everyone knows i love all this cooking baking stuff n just need an excuse to do it so they probably assumed...." armaan interrupted with a chuckle "that you were trying to flaunt your skills as usual...." she made a face at him and resumed "do u ever give up on that armaan???anyways that must have been it....besides di's wedding is whats most on their minds for now...."....


armaan nodded taking the keys from her and opening her car door for her....as she made a move to sit in he held onto her wrist and she turned around to look at him as he gave a warm smile n said "ur the best...n i love u...." she gave him a sweet smile back, pleasantly surprised...he was such a natural at making her feel special....he could say those simple words just out of the blue in no special way, in fact in a completely random manner, and she would feel priceless....perhaps cause of the truth in his words...the were simple but completely meant...after those several moments of her thoughts while he had just held her hand looking at her with a smile, not even waiting for a reply, for her eyes were saying it all....


"i know" she said and hugging him, "i love u too...." he pulled her out of the hug and said with a mischievous grin staring into her eyes to not miss her reaction to his next words "yeh that was evident from last night's mindblowing performance!!" she blushed deeply breaking the eye contact just as he had expected n said "that...was...actually...i was just...i mean...." then looking back at him giving her a cheesy grin and a look which asked her to go on n complete her reason....she punched him on his shoulder and said with a mock stern look though still blushing "stop embarassing me u jerk....n its rude to just peek into someone's room....specially a girl's room....where is ur basic civic sense, n then u call ur self nothing short of a lord...." she completed sticking her tongue out at him....


he broke out laughing at her reaction, it was way better than his expectation....."aaaawww princess angry cause i peeked into her special confessing moment???alright...il go peek into other girls' rooms next time i swear there are many who would gladly have me do so.....but i hope u wont have a problem, i mean their confessions might not be, simply a dance u know....."...."armaaaaan!" she said indignantly now, and gritting her teeth "fine go peek where ever u want....how do i care...." and she turned to get into the car again but he did not let go of her hand and pulling her back much closer this time he whispered his warmth breath brushing against her supple skin "well honey if u dont care then the whole motive is defeated....idea dropped!!!" she shot him an angry look, but his grin was infectious n she couldnt help but break into giggles....


and he pulled her into a hug and kissed her forehead..."seriously, u were amazing, i couldnt even take timeout n blink" as she looked at him turning red again, trying to see if he was still teasing her n realized he was....but he indeed meant each word.....and she hugged him back....then he pulled her out of this grip with a jerk and holding onto her shoulders as she looked at him surprised by his sudden action he said "u have to translate the song for me this time....i didnt get a word of it....i mean the one on the radio was so much easier i got like 80% of it atleast, but this one was nothing like the hindi i know...."


she interrupted "u know hindi???" he did a so so action with his hand and getting out of this surpising news she said now trying to sound disappointed "oh shoot! n here i was thinking i could take any calls from my other boyfriends even if u were around cause u wouldnt understand what i was saying...." and with that she swiftly pulled out of his grip which loosened hearing her last words and before he could get out of his 'what the hell' look she had started the car blowing him a kiss she steered it back out of its spot to drive away....he stood there a few moments, smiling....then moving back to the house in a not quite firm meandering n slack stride he muttered..."my...crazy ....cleopatra...."


***************


"muskaan, has ridhima finally gone to fetch the mauli blessed from vaishno devi??? i dont belive this girl, i told her yesterday to keep it all ready, n now when the groom almost stands at the threshold of our house
she tells me she forgot to put that one...." muskaan put her hand on padma's shoulder and said "she will be back in a jiffy aunty....trust me nothing will make her miss this part....the
groom's side entering our house n ridhima not here for their specially welcome...impossible...." confirming those words, ridhima rushed in at that moment..."here u go mum
thsi is the one right..."


padma nodded and then added sternly looking at the two of them "whatever u all have planned, i dont want violence at the door itself....do i make myself clear???"
they both giggled looking at each other, then back at padma, and then caught her by surprise hugging her together as ridhima said" mum!!!u worry too much....just sit back n watch
the fun...."


and they broke apart hearing the band playing quite close....within minutes atul, in his sehra and sherwani get up was approaching the entrance, flanked on either side by
minnie and armaan, and several other cousins....while ridhima felt a tug at her neck and turned around to see aryan pulling onto the pallu of her mauve silver silk saree trying to draw her attention to himself...
she gave an evil smile and nodded as he showed her a thumbs up....n with a look of naughty glee, in absolute excitement she turned around coming face to face with....him....


wow she thought....as he smiled flashing his dimples, she could hear the whispering comments from girls on both sides swooning over his looks as he looked dashing in a white kurta chudidaar n maroon gold stole
....she gave them all a sugary smile, with an irritated streak at the attention he was drawing, and turned to muski without acknowledging his smile for her....he is enemy camp right now ridzi,focus!, she told herself......

whispering soemthing to muski as padma proceeded to do the aarti for atul....muskaan giggled after hearing ridhima out


and as she looked
back towards the guests they were facing, she found armaan still smiling at her....she felt like his eyes had not left her even for a moment, and as she looked into his eyes, he winked at
her ever so slightly, while she blushed, completely flustered, cursing him, and looked away....now her eyes fell on chris, and she smiled automatically mouthing a hello dad, he smiled
back at her...the aarti done, the boys side proceeded to move in, but the girls blocked the entrance headed by ridhima and muskaan....atul looked at them with raised eyebrows


and muskaan said "not that easy jeeeejuuuu....u gota bribe ur way into the house...." and ridhima added "absolutely....whats the hurry anyways????no cash, no entry, no bride...." as she finished giving a haughty
tilt to her head the whole gang on there side erupted into a supportive yell.....armaan n rahul looked at each other with a nod, while minnie quipped "no way....we are
enough of us here to push our way through....bhai u dont have to bribe your trying to be smart saali sahibas...." giving them a tit for tat smile....ridhima chuckled looking at muskaan
as rahul and armaan nodded in agreement to minnie....muskaan said "why dont u give it a shot then...if u cant push through, we will double our demand for the bribe....whatsay???"


armaan spoke "ur on...." and the boys side cheered for him....atul muttered to armaan "if u guys lose u pay the second extra half of the bribe not me..." rahul n armaan nodded while
minnie said in a chidding tone "BHAI! dont be a loser before even playing....we will get through...." as the two sides pushed with equal force...ridhima at one moment almost hit hard
against armaans chest, he circled his arm around her his eyes dancing with mischief, as she tried to push him back again, n pull herself out giving him a desperate warning look, and he spoke close to her ear "heylo
princess" and she stopped struggling, looking up at him hearing his seductive drawl so close, his lips brushing her ear,


but within seconds she felt a push again, and this time did land hard her hands hitting his chest...she pulled them off quickly as armaan let her lose from his hold
and said looking at him with a frown "um sorry just the ...." but she couldnt complete as she suddenly felt herself covered in something soft and white....n she wasnt the only one she
realized as the pushing from her side almost ceased suddenly everyone quite white....


as she looked up puzzled, she saw rahul n armaan using shaving spray all over the girls side,
spraying beatiful foam streamers in the air, but as they landed in the hair n on the clothes, the girls forgot the struggle and stopped to sort out the mess....n those few moments
were enough for the guys to break in!!! armaan rahul n minnie hi fived, as muskaan and ridhima looked at each other disappointed....but atul at that moment pulled their hands, handing
them a bundle each of cash with a smile, and they shrieked hugging him...."love u jeej!" said ridhima breaking away her eyes gleaming in fun....and as she and muskaan excitedly babbled at
the same time not listening to the other, armaan whispered brushing ridhima's ear again "looking gorgeous!" as he walked past her....and she turned around to look at him walking away...

**************

he grabbed her wrist firmly, as she looked all around frantically to catch any observers who noticed it....while he gave her a steadfast stare....waiting patiently for her to complete her
prying survey and finally spare him a glance, but his grip did not loosen at all despite her evident discomfort at the liklihood of being caught....
finaly satisfied that no one had seen them, at least for then
she said looking at him, with a pleading look "armaan! what are you doing???" armaan grinned cheekily and replied "why dont you try guessing???"


she shot him a hostile look hoping he would realize she was getting mad at him now and said in a sarcastic voice
"honey there are over a thousand people here and only a mere six know about us....
we cant possibly assume the remaining mob of them is blind ok???" before armaan could reply they heard another voice making them both turn around "make that a mere 7 people
riddeeema, guess um the one u missed out..."


ridhima blushed seeing chris while armaan intertwined his fingers with hers
from the hand he was holding onto making the grip stronger and said
"didnt i mention dad????she is an expert at missing out, overlooking, and ignoring anybody who happens to be a benz....iv been facing the ruthless brunt of it all evening"...
ridhima glared at him and looking back at chris will an apologetic smile she said "sorry dad, ur right i was just counting us all....." chris nodded then patting her head lightly but lovingly he
said "god bless you.....look like an angel tonight...." ridhima hugged him whispering a thank you....


armaan cleared his throat to get attention and chris, breaking out of the hug said chuckling "n then he says he isnt jealous!!!" with that he left them both alone smiling....turning around ridhima said with a pleading look again "armaaaaan...please i have to get some stuff mum asked for....let go of my hand....." he saw her expression giving her a thoughtful frown and then kissing the hand he held onto he let it go...but as he turned around to walk away she said "where are you going???"


he turned back, putting his arm around her shoulder pulled her closer and pointed in a certain direction....she followed his finger to see the dance floor, with a whole bunch of girls dancing....he grinned seeing her eyes narrowing and whispered slowly letting the words sink in and said "going to get my desert...." letting her go as she looked at him with an unbelieving disgusting look he turned her head back in the direction of his finger which he had moved slightly and finished his sentence "reg mentioned they have strawberry tarts..." she shook her head hearing him chuckle and then got free from his hold remembering she had to get some stuff she said "gosh why do i even bother hearing u out i wonder...." and then turning around again she said "duno about your strawberry tarts, but do try the rabdi jalebi....pa hired a man who has come all the way from punjab to do it for tonight....its amazing..." .....


"but what is...." he stopped watching her move away briskly without letting him complete which he now did "rab....rab...ri???now what is that???" then muttered, not quite inaudible though..."um going to eat it only when u get it for me yourself sweetheart...." he stopped midsentence as still thinking he almost collided with..."PM???" he said...then smiling he added hugging her "beautiful as ever!!!" she pulled him out of the hug and giving him an offended look said in a hurt voice "beautiful as ever...yeh right i can see how much u were noticing me, considering u almost just walked through me armaan...thinking about a certain sweetheart.... if i heard right???"


he jerked to look at her being caught and rambled without thinking "its all her fault..." n stopped before he said more, giving himself a mentle kick....as he looked back at her again she gave him a questioning look, with eyebrows raised n said "her fault....hmmmm...u mean the sweetheart u were talking about???" he nodded, then shook his head forcefully then gulped and said "ummm PM....i should...u know...." he sighed looking down thinking of what to say....padma patting his head she said "its hard to lie or hide from mothers armaan...."


as he looked up at her he saw how earnest her statement had been in her eyes as she continued with a naughty smile "so you found your someone special... like me huh???..." as armaan lowered his eyes not refuting her question she looked at him more solemn now....lifting his face to make him look at her she asked "is there something you would like to discuss armaan???" he looked into her eyes, and saw her concern...in that one moment he forgot about their mutual decision to talk together to her, and after the marriage.....


was the moment set for him to confess???...he couldnt hold it all within....n without giving his intuition a second thought he said "yes PM...i found my someone speacial...shes so like you as perhaps no one else in the world could be....n i do want to talk...." pausing he saw ridhima coming towards them from behind padma, with a huge red covered pack trying to balance it n not trip over her saree at the same time....without looking at padma who was listening to him intently the name escaped his lips ever so slightly "ridhima..."


and then looking down to clear his head for a moment he looked back at her and said to a puzzled looking padma "PM the girl is....no...before anything else....whatever it is, i want you to know its true i love her unconditionally....but i love and respect u like my mum....n if you will not approve i will never question your decision nor ask for a reason...." as he looked into her eyes padma saw absolute truth, and yet an uneasy desperation...holding his hand she said "n i want u to know....if you are right, i will stand by u, just like ur mum...."


as ridhima approached them quite close now he said "thanks PM.....i never wish to hurt you....n we will talk after the wedding....for now..." he pulled her face into a smile and said "its anji's wedding u should think of...." with that he walked off just before ridhima reached.....watching him walk off she was interrupted by ridhima's uncertain voice "amaaa??? what was armaan...i mean....what happened???" padma gave a small smile hearing the question then following her impulse she turned to to face ridhima and said in a sure voice "do you love him ridhima???"


*************
this is just a clarifying note from me...i think i wasnt making eneough sense in the end part of the last update....what i had tried to portray was that armaan just told padma he in love...not mentioning the girl at all....somehow i think i was ambiguous n alot of the readers thot he told her its ridhima...just wanted to clear that misconception....she realized all by herself that its him n ridhima....n this update will be based on that....

~Part 27~


ridhima stood rooted to the spot....she felt at a loss of words, or even the mere power to react.....everything around and every thought for a few moments seemed nothing better than a blur....her eyes widened as the question sunk into her head with its complete essence....ridhima's absence of reaction was confirmation enough for padma....but she wanted to hear that confession anyways so she shaking ridhima by her shoulders lightly..."tell me bacha....do u love him???" ridhima came out of her trance n said in a meek voice "mum...u mean..." padma interrupted "armaan...." and waited for an answer her expression neither reproaching nor approving, just a plain a intent look...ridhima gulped n tried again "what did he ...."


..."PADMA!!" they were interrupted this time by shashank who yelled for her from less than 10feet away, ridhima crossed her fingers hoping her mum would go....padma, taking the package from ridhima said "i know the answer, but when we talk next....i want to hear it from u...plain n straight..." with that she walked off....ridhima at first did not know what to think or make of this abrupt untimely confrontation...then she let out a sigh of relief, realizing that she had unconsciously held her breath for perhaps about a minute...she stood leaning against the wall now, her mind totally jinxed....


do i love armaan...mum was asking me if i loved him....MUM WAS ASKING ME IF I LOVED HIM....RIDZI UR SO DEAD....he really just told her????like just did it????the very next second she cursed armaan...."we'll talk after the wedding" she mimicked armaan's part american part british accent, making a face....now walking in circles talking to herself infuriated..."so much for fidelity to a group decision.....has this jerk heard of living by one's word....meet the unethical forever sir lord benz himself...." she finished in a dramatic tone as one would when introducing to another, a man of great honor but with absolute sarcasm in her manner.....now standing still, with a disgusted look she rolled her eyes heavenwards and said "u have two hours to change your mind god if you plan to spare me from this royal torture, n grant a human instead....cause after that i will have to tell mum its him....n i dont see her dancing out of joy if i come back to her few days hence n tell her i changed my mind a third time cause god now found me a new guy....."


presently, she was almost knocked off the ground as she felt someone shove past her hard....she turned around angrily to give whoever it was a piece of her mind and saw it was minnie chased by a aryan....her furious look changed to a puzzled one deep frown settling on her face, until she realized minnie was holding atul's a pair of juttis....immediately she realized what the chaos was about....n then before she even moved into action, she saw armaan appear out of the thin air it seemed close to minnie as she passed the object of interest into his hands just in time before aryan caught hold of her n now she put her efforts into blocking him, quite successfully....armaan dashed for the garden outside....n ridhima followed, as fast as she could without further delay, putting off her mind the talk with her mother until later....


she reached the door in time to see him lock his car...n as he turned around she hid out of sight....she saw his eyes scan the whole place, and held her breath hoping to not be caught, and as he smiled tossing his keys in the air and catching them she knew she was safe....then she moved further into a niche as he entered the hall again...without giving a glance sideways.....awsome she thought grinning....think ur too smart honey....um not going to spare u for ditching me like that, putting me in a fix with mum when we had to face it together all four of us....for now lets begin with beating u at this game....time u know why it isnt quite ideal to date an engineer n then try messing with her....just wait n watch how i win this one....


with a smirk she moved in looking for aryan n muskaan...spotting aryan first who had somehow it seemed rid himself of minnie....she told him the plan of action n he grinned after she was done....looking at her in admiration he said...."wow frisco! um impressed...u didnt waste our years of friendship, did pick up the tricks of the trade huh!!!" she punched him in the chest n said in a haughty voice, "stop snatching the credit here... u lost the jutti to ur girlfriend um the one getting them back....." and then she continued in a commanding voice "now quick....get me that thin steel scale from upstairs its on the top of my desk um sure...." as he looked like he was gong to protest being ordered about like that she added "i cant be missing too long or the enemies will sniff something out of place..." aryan looked at her and said "but why the scale????wont ur hair pin do???" she gave him an impatient look and said "oh please....leave that 'never going to work' hairpin trick for opening car doors to bollywood....we have to do it for real here...." as aryan still gave her an unconvinced look she said "dude....can u use butter knives to open up ur patients instead of the surgical knives????hopefully ur answer to that is no....leave the mechanics to me....i know what um saying just get me the scale....n hurry now....i will demonstrate the details some other time to prove my point..." as he moved following her orders for once in his life, she gave an evil victorious smile, n rubbing her hands in glee she moved towards the mandap....


then she caught armaan's eye as he stared at her with raised eyebrows...and she immediately gave him a glare n looked away n thought...oh shoot forgot to tell aryan about armaan telling mum....cant believe he actually told her....n how smart was he, walked off just before i reached to let me face the brunt....oh god....mum must be so upset to get to know about this from him before me....n to think theres never anyhting i dont share with her....now whats she going to think....armaan u idiot....couldnt u wait.....now if something goes wrong, he is the one to blame...but how does that help ridzi....if something does go wrong, how does it matter who was to blame, n....no no no....girl u gota think positive....its going to be ok....i will explain everything to mum....she will understnad me....n...actually....now that i think of it, she did not look mad at me back there when she asked me the question did she????...


"OOWW..." ridhima started to squeal but aryan covered her mouth, n glared at her ....she pulled his hand off her mouth n whispered angrily...."aryaaan that hurt, my poor hand, its going to cripple one of these days cause of your ruthless pinching" he retorted equally furious "well if you would listen to people calling out your name the usual way i would not have to resort to physical torture....been calling u for over 2 minutes frisco....what the hell are u thinking???actually bad question....what else could u think about....but this seriously is the limit...he sitting there in front of u n u still day dreaming about him???" ridhima snapped a, 'are u done?' look at him n whispered back..."it wasnt him...it was us....he told mum about him n me.....n..."...


"WHAT???" aryan said in a voice as loud as it could get still being a whisper...she nodded n then before he could interrupt she said "but right now, did u get the scale...." he handed it to her still confused n muttered "how do u know??? i mean how could he just....well actually...good for us if he faced it all alone...." then grinning at her he added teasing "wow frisco...that sure is crazy love...such impatience....or just bare guts???" ridzi rolled her eyes n said "yeh right guts my foot....left me to answer mum walking off conveniently himself....but il deal with him on that later....right now i gotta go....text me if u think they will need me at the mandap...i shouldnt be gone long...." with that she slipped out of the room....not quite unnoticed though....busy in the multiple thoughts raiding her mind, she missed on armaan's curious look following her as she left the room....


**************


She looked around for a moment, n satisfied at being unobserved she set herself to the task, glad it was the old lock model....the new ones didnt always work in obedience to this gimmick....finding the right point just parallel to the lock, she pulled the black piping against the car window at its bottom point where it emnated from the door, then lifting it for half its length along the window....she slid the scale into the crevice between the car window n the door exterior, the spot which had shown itself beneath the piping fastening it....scrunching her eyes in concentration with a slight frown she muttered "c'mon babe....i can feel u in there..."


n as she felt the obstruction to the scale she was pushing in, she smiled "gotcha!!" and she knicked the scale pushing it down n with it the thin metal plate she had been targeting.....it wasnt visible to her of course from that narrow crevice but she knew it was what the scale had hit, cause she had the right spot n this was not the first time she was doing this anyways....CLICK....her smile widened into a grin as she heard the sound she was looking for, and she did the victory jig and said talking to herself "HA HA! good job ridzi...." and opening the door, still talking, she bent into the car while looking for the footwear, "thats the first time i did it on a hyundai model....not bad....the auto workshop wasnt a complete waste after all....engineering...never lets u down....oh theres the jutti" grabbing it swiftly she got out and pushing the lock she shut the door and then finally she fixed the piping back into place...."there! karan sir would be so proud of me...." and beaming she looked for the scale on the roof of the car where she had put it...


"looking for this???"..."AAAH!" she screamed. turning around faster than motion could possibly take place, as the sudden voice scared her out of her skin....she sighed seeing him, and closing her eyes momentarily she leaned against the car n clutched her heart which had definitely stopped beating in that moment...then opening her eyes she saw him grinning as he fiddled with the scale, but giving her a consistent look without blinking....she glared at him now "ARMAAAAN! i would have died of a heart attack right now u creep, sneaking on me like that...." he broke out laughing and then shaking his head he said "heart attacks???no sweetheart they are your department....n um the one sneaking here???incase u did not realize the implication of your actions in the past few minutes....its called breaking into another's car...."


she looked indifferently at him, n then in addition started pretending as if she was fixing the pleats of her saree, to indicate she wasnt listening....that made him grin more, n after looking around he faced her again, and he gripped her wrists and pinning both her hands behind her he pulled her very close not removing his eyes from her face, which was now covered with a deep frown as she tried to wriggle out of his grip, while still clutching tight the jutti she had successfully retreived....he blew lightly at the flicks of hair falling over her eyes, that immediately caused her to cease all struggle as she looked into his eyes blushing slightly....the mischief in them matched his smile as he said "but um impressed lady newton!!! i mean WOW! that was neat....effortless yet effective....but u know what i could have saved u even this little trouble...i mean u could have just asked me for the keys n they were all yours...i was looking for someone to get the footwear anyways, cause the ceremony is almost done n atul will need them soon....thanks for being such a sweetheart you understand me even before i speak...aaawwww!"


n he gave her a peck on her cheek which was turning red as she glared in anger at him now n retorted "who said um giving u the jutti???i got it n um keeping it....jeej only gets it when we get our cash..." he gave her an innocent struck in love look, as if hanging on to everyword she uttered and then with another grin gave her another peck on the other cheek whispering "anything for you honey...." as she looked at his profile, getting engulfed in the sensation of proximity, and the cologne again....next time she would have to steal that....he continued, his lips brushing her ear "anything but this....um going to take that footwear from u....unless u give it to me yourself....either way, is my way....coz u...are up against the very best....."....


as he moved back to look into her eyes, winking at her in a challenging way...trying hard to overcome her flustered self, she shot him a a look with daggers and said "first u get me into a fix with mum....n now u try to scare me off???forget it....n let go of my wrists ur hurting me...." armaan let go immediately, in fact so easily that she was surprised herself cause she thought he knew she was just saying it to get free....and then she realized he looked puzzled as he asked "huh???when did i get u into a fix with PM???" his voice confused yet concerned....which she found weird, but retorted "dont act smart with me....how could u just tell mum u love me n walk off???i had to face her rapid fire alone....what she must be...."


armaan interrupted "ridzi are u insane why would i do that???" ridhima now gave him an irritated look...first he lands her in a soup...n then he denies it totally???she said "armaan if this another one of your aimless effort at being funny its just as futile as ever...i mean thankfully pa called her at that moment n she got busy....we all had to tell her together how could u..." he gripped her shoulders now and said "ridhima!" and she stopped....he hardly ever used her full name...."look honey....i dont know why u think i told her....did she say so herself???i wouldnt think not, cause i did not tell her....yeh we did happen to crash into each other n somehow the conversation was steered to this topic, all i claimed was being in love....cause she looked so trully concerned, i just....anyways...i told her i would talk post the wedding....did not even mention u...infact i moved away before u even reached there, cause i had this gut feeling she would see through us if we faced her together....well atleast me...it was just one of those...u know a moment when its obvious to read ur mind n thoughts....too vulnerable...n so leaving it at that i walked away....thats it..."


ridhima spoke puzzled herself now "thats it???ur not making it up are you???" but his words n expression told her before he spoke that he wasnt, n he said "c'mon ridzi...if i did tell PM why would i not admit to it???but why do u think i told her....????...." at that moment they heard a loud eruption of greetings from inside, bringing them back to the present moment, they both looked towards the door., n while armaan continued looking at it, ridhima looked at him still standing close, smiled for no reason lowering her gaze, n then the very next moment snapped out of it, she pushed him hard, completely taking him by surprise n made a run for the door turning around n sticking her tongue out at him...he realized n ran after her...she was fast though the saree wasnt helping much, when atlast within few feet of her he managed to grab her pallu, she felt a tug, and turned around shooting him a a mix of warning, pleading n endearing look, hoping at least one would work.....


she never knew if one or a combination or all of them worked but he did let go, n lowered his eyes and as she ran away, free now, he looked back at her again as she disappeared from his sight towards the mandap....n smiled....then remembering their talk a few minutes back he frowned slightly....she couldnt have made that up just to get the jutti....no she sounded earnest about it....but if i didnt tell PM, n she dint, how did she...SHE KNOWS IT....OMG SHE KNOWS IT DUDE...chuck how she knows it...BUT SHE DOES???


his chain of thoughts was broken by another loud burst of shrieks from the mandap side....guess they just got the cash he thought shaking his head with a smile n moved to get their himself too....still brooding over the confusion....have to ask ridzi exactly what happened.....entering inside he saw ridhima dancing in joy the cash high in her hands as muskaan and aryan tried to get it from her and she ran dodging people all over the place laughing her head off....n turning around to tease them showing the cash she had....he broke into a smile unknowingly, and leaning against the frame of the door he stood, his arms folded across his chest, his gaze unwavering....


*************


Padma saw the four of them their eyes lowered, as they stood before her, as if in detention....armaan, minnie, aryan n ridhima...in a line.....


**********

not one of them had slept a wink the night before despite the exhaustion from the week long events.....each one on their own was thinking of the confrontation they would face the next morning....somewhere deep inside they each knew their decision would not face opposition....but that was in no way making facing the ordeal any simpler.....if only they could sleep over the issue to wake up n find all was in order.....


ridhima was pacing her room when she heard the cell ring...5AM...she knew the caller without seeing the name....flipping open her cell she said "armaan um scared...." he had called her with his own fear n anticipation....but hearing her voice somehow forced him to calm down as he said "dont worry sweetheart....all going to be good...PM knows about us anyways now...if she had to get mad at us she wouldnt be so patient about the whole issue..." he knew what he was saying was making sense, n so did she....but that did not aliviate their nagging doubts of WHAT IF....he continued "honey...." then pausing he decided there was nothing to say....he just wanted her to take it easy....


"i was actually calling cause i have a little problem here..."..."another problem???Armaan lets deal with one at a time...ok what is it anyways teme..."he replied "well i've been thinking....u know my girlfriend in stanford....she is the top of the cheerleading squad....um scared of how to tell her that...u know...." ridhima interrupted "armaaaan???thats what u thinking about at 5AM in the morning...." armaan smiled on his end of the phone, she sounded irritated genuinely, which implied he had taken her mind off the issue which was eating into each of their brains n he replied trying to sound innocent "yeh ridhima.....are their some fixed hours i should be thinking of my girlfriend n not in others????um worried about her....." now sounding irritated deeply ridhima retorted...


"well no...go ahead think about her all u want to...but u did not have to wake me up for this...." armaan grinned, n then more solemn he said in a softer voice, deep with love "ok i wont wake u up....if u promise to go to sleep for real...." hearing his words ridhima realized what he had done.....her strain from the past few hours suddenly felt too much....his concern n efforts made her loosen her hold on her nerves....n she broke into silent tears....she almost whispered into the phone "armaan...i..." armaan intrrupted "sweetheart...please....just take a break n rest some n...." he suddenly felt she was crying...."honey???" she nodded then realizing they were on the phone she said in a hoarse voice "yeh um listening..."


armaan sighed then said in low but extremely caring voice "ridzi....c'mon princess....if my big strong fighter girl gonna be seriously crying....theres no hope whatsoever for a weak heart like me...." ridhima gave a small giggle through tears, then wiping them off.....armaan continued happy to hear her laugh.."i know PM has called us 2 to talk with all the elders tomorrow....n well aryan minnie going to come....4 of us....u dont have to worry at all...it will all turn out for the good...." ridhima whispered again but in a steadier voice now..."promise???" armaan gave a small smile..."yeh i promise...." then in a lighter voice he added chuckling "but hit the bed now....u look scary enough without the addition of sleepless dark circles..."


for once ridhima didnt retort immediately....she had so been in need of reassurance n without realizing the tears she had been holding back had been adding to her stress...this outbreak made her feel much lighter....armaan must obviously have been quite restless n disturbed too....but he had abandoned his fears...just to make her feel better....she smiled n then said in a cheeky whisper "no um working on the scary lok to drive away all those cheerleading chikc from u once we are back in stanford....if i see any of them hovering around u..." armaan interrupted "i know i know....u gona kil them....girls kiling other girls over me isnt news!!!" he said in an arrogantly set up cheeky tone...


she retorted no longer whispering "dont be such dimwit....its u um going to kill....they are nothing to me...its u um trusting so if i feel cheated its u who should be punished...." armaan broke out laughing, n that as usual was infectious so ridhima was laughing too....until he finally managed to speak "wel th man is now all yours forever, dead or alive...." ridhima blushed then said "armaan! how cheesy do u get???" he replied chuckling, yet his tone solemn "but i mean every word...." then in a commanding tone "n now hit the bed...ill see u tomorrow....well its like today since its already close to 6AM.."...."thanks armaan....i....i'l see u soon then....love u!" with that she shut the phone.....and moved to the bed....while armaan set fiddling with his phone.....deep in thought....n then getting up from the bed he muttered "i love her PM...n i trust u to understand..."


***********

Padma got up presently n started pacing the room though in slow thoughtful strides facing them, n the 4 of them glanced up, just barely to watch her reaction n then shooting each other questioning looks, except ridhima....she just looked down....she was sure that even if everything resolved, the one thing her mother would not find agreeable would be that she learnt facts from someone other than ridhima herself,...padma n ridhima, for years now had been proud to share that bond where each could talk to the other about anything anytime, n now she felt like she had not exactly betrayed, but been unfair to that unspoken understanding....


but armaan had claimed, n she believed him, that he had not told her....obviously neither had aryan or minnie...or for that matter rahul, muski or chris....there wasnt another soul who knew about this...could she have seen her with armaan sometime when....the thoughts of her close moments with armaan flashed through ridhima's head n she blushed profusely....oh shoot....i hope she dint see us any of those times....how will i ever explain any of this to her....ridzi u are in such a deep mess.....


she was ripped out of her thread of thoughts as she felt padma pull her out of her current position and then she realized minnie had been pulled out too....she stared at her mom....what in the world is happening....god please please please....dont make her angry or upset....padma simply swapped their positions....it was now armaan ridhima aryan n minnie in order...and she said in a questioning tone "if um misunderstanding anything here correct me now....will not stand up with u all for another switch here...."as the guys looked up at her shocked, the girls were blank.....slowly each one of them had the same thought....did she mean....she had approved them n their decision????at last armaan spoke up...."PM are you......i mean....do u....like..."


aryan interrupted "aunty are u with us???"....before she could answer they heard a voice from behind which made all four of them reel around "with u for what aryan???" and they saw him....although padma had told armaan n ridhima the night before that he would be present, shashanks absence from the discussion had been the only relief for the four of them in the past 45minutes of their explaining the situation to padma....now seeing him at the door his look questioning n curious they all felt zapped....each thinking the same thing....how much harder was this going to get????


************


part 27 people...terribly delayed i know...n that too after a supposed cliffhanger....n actually i have managed to get it done after so many interruptions that um not quite happy with it....but well...its dam long...if u dont sleep off reading it i hope u will still be alive to comment....tons of work at the lab keeping me off the laptop....n then the summerfest is adding to the load the arrangements are fun n all but taking sooooo much time....not being quite a superwoman i know....but i know u all will still bear with me anyways...lov u tons!!!

ps: will send out PM's later...still stuck with work....


Edited by spln - 19 June 2008 at 10:10am

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Posted: 05 June 2008 at 2:26pm | IP Logged
~Part 28~

Chris saw armaan sitting by the pool....his feet in the water, slightly moving to n fro...deep in thought....he had been preoccupied ever since he got back from the gupta house with minnie....chris had wanted to join the four of them in the confrontation...but had decided against it, wanting to let the gupta's learn facts preceeding the discussion between him n them for the future of their children....somewhere he like armaan had been convinced that opposition from the elders was unlikely, despite the complication of the situation....but now, for the past almost two hours, armaans silent brooding was bothering him, especially since minnie had been chirping all over the house, smiling without a break.....when armaan had sat through the dinner jokes and teasing session aimed at the newly weds who were leaving for their honeymoon to europe the very next day, chris had shot minnie a questioning look, and she had shrugged n then whispered that all had been resolved for the good....that had bothered him even more....


now with everyone having mostly retired to their bedrooms, considerably early compared to all of last week, he decided it was time to have a talk....n walking up to him put a hand on his shoulder....armaan looked up and smiled at him, but it wasnt his usual smile....chris sat down, without speaking a word, letting armaan take his time....after several moments of silence armaan said still looking ahead of him at nothing in particular...."arent u going to ask what happened???" chris smiled n said "u know thats what um here for, um letting u decide when u want to tell me the good news minnie already told me about, which ironically seems to be extracting from u quite an opposite reaction to what i expected....so um led to conclude there is more to the story than she knows..." armaan nodded..."yeh there is...." then he kept quiet again....


after a couple more quiet minutes had passed he said "dad....how much time did mum n u spend in courtship before u got married???" chris looked at armaan curiously trying to figure out where this talk was going, but so far he couldnt so he answered...."i proposed her in less than 2 weeks....but we got married a year later...." armaan now looked up with raised eyebrows n then looking down again he asked "n why that delay???" for once chris was feeling clueless about the direction this discussion was headed n he said "several reasons armaan, but before i tell u any of them i want to know whats on ur mind....." armaan sighed....and said "shashank uncle did understand our issue and all got resolved..." then pausing he almost whispered...."then we had a talk...just him n me...." and armaan recounted the whole conversation.....


***********


~flashback~


"alright..." all four of them, and padma looked at shashank as he gave that single word response to their combined over an hour explaination of the situation....alright???was that a yes??a no???or something else....thats all he had to say after all they told him???before any of them could delve deeper into the question he got up and walked towards aryan n minnie first....patting their heads with a smile he said "um very happy for u aryan....uv been like a son to me all these years....n will always be....n i cant begin to figure out why i never realized this link between u n minnie after a year of u both hanging out at our place so often with atul n angi.....but the moment u mentioned it i saw how perfect it is....god bless u both!!!" they smiled n touched his feet.....


then he moved to armaan n ridhima.....he was surprised that while ridhima looked down, averting his gaze, armaan did not, in fact he met his eye, with a faint smile, a look of complete poise even in the anticipation....shashank was pleased....he smiled at armaan n then with both hands lifted ridhima's face till she looked back at him, her eyes brimming and it was evident she was trying hard to to keep the tears just there....he smiled at her too, n then pulled her into a hug.....that was the end to her control n she broke into sobs....amongst the four of them shashank knew she had felt most cornered....her bond with her mother was like friends....but essentially, she was daddy's girl.....there was no difference between anji n her for him.....but she was undoubtedly the baby of the house, the apple of his eye......armaan looked at the two of them, wanting to hush ridhima himself, but it was a father daughter moment he would never want to interrupt.....so he just waited, until they broke apart, and as shashank wiped away her tears, armaan quietly held onto her hand, squeezing it in a comforting way and felt her grip it tight, her nails digging into his palm.....n then padma stepped forward n both she and shashank hugged armaan n ridhima....


they were interrupted as they heard anji yelling from downstairs...."does this family still remember they have an elder daughter, or did u all disown me after last night...." they all grinned and padma made a move saying "ridhima hurry up n come down with the boxes in ur closet, anji is here for the pag phere....." with a last quick hug with shashank, a thumbs up to aryan n minnie, and just a plain earnest look to armaan with a smile she followed out of the place....minnie moved after her, and aryan said "uncle mum n dad need to..." shashank quietened him with a gesture of his hand n said "leave that to me...i will talk to gaurav n swati...i foresee no problems they have known minnie n her family for a while....n if u both are happy....there isnt a second thought...." aryan smiled and said "thanks uncle...." then turning to armaan he said giving him the usual guys hug n pat, "all set man....um warning u now, shashank uncle will back me on this....frisco is gona be quite a job....but i trust u to take good care of her.....good luck..." shashank laughed n armaan nodded smiling, slightly conscious since shashank was there.....n aryan moved out of the room.....


armaan just stood facing shashank then fiddling with his own hands looked down a bit then back at him, and then started "ummmm i....thanks uncle...." shashank interupted "so when did u first meet ridhima???" he looked up surprised by the question and said after a few moments of thinking "we were...together in high school uncle...in chicago....which would make it....about 9 years ago..." he answered the curious look still on his face and shsshank went on "n how long have u known her???" armaan was going to say the same, but he stopped.....as he realized what shashank was asking was different....he thought a few more moments before answering "it would be under a month uncle...." shashank nodded and then much to armaan's relief he smiled at him, nodding his head slowly....then he walked towards the window....


armaan wasnt sure what he was expected to do so he stood his spot waiting for the next question or instruction whatever it would be....he frowned slightly, this time by the tone in which shashank spoke......it sounded like he was physically here, but mentally far away "why am i not surprised by ur answer armaan.....ridhima in that period was so not the prson u or anybody for that matter would have known.....n now u say uv known her for less than a month, of course um safely assuming that implies u both were not internet buddies between the high school n grad school interactions....armaan....she is....a very hard to know for real girl....iv seen her evolve from living under a shell as an introvert, to a young, easy to communicate and connect with lady.....and the change has been all for the good....except ....well thats the side of her everybody now witnesses...the independent, self sufficient ridhima, who knows how to find her ways, resolve her issues, and make her decisions....she abandoned the old girl she used to be quite some time back...."


shashank turned back to face armaan n said looking into his eyes..."alas!...u know....we can bury parts of ourselves....but we cant simply outgrow them.....and so....for as long as life goes our way, a occasionaly meandering a bit here n there we stay our transformed selves, but in real situations which test us to the core, there is always a tendency for the burried traits of our personalities to break free n surface....." now walking up to where armaan still stood he said "i was absolute faith in her decisions armaan, n if she chose u i take her word for it.....besides..." he said resting his hand on his shoulder "i have had much more of an oppertunity to interact with ur father than i had with u, he is indeed a gentlemen befitting his name n stature, perhaps much more...ur mother i hear from atul's family was a lady worthy of more praise than can be offered....n u give me no reason to believe u would be any different from either of them armaan, which reaffirms my faith in ridhima's choices n decisions...."


armaan smiled at the words graciously, but in his head he was still uncertain of what was coming up....n so the question remained lingering as a look in his eyes...shashank sighed then continued in a grave voice "ridhima n i share a strange relation....she is closest to her mother without a speck of doubt....there is nothing they cant discuss between the two of them....but....i dont know if my words will justify what um trying to say here....i have been the only fall back in her life....the only one she trusts even for breaking out before....i mean....its not that she doesnt have her outbusrts with padma or anji....or even for that matter aryan n muskaan.....but....u know moments in life when one feels weak????well ever since she grew into this new mature ridhima avtar, she stopped the display of any sign of weakness before any person in the world, including her mother....even when she discusses a problem with her, the tension may be apparent, but she just cant let the weakness show without getting conscious about it....but with me armaan....although there is so much in her life we never even bother mentioning, there are moments she dispels that fear of showing fear itself.....its like an unspoken bond we share we dont have to discuss evrything but i know when um needed, n she knows when she can come only to me....perhaps thats what it is like to be a man in a lady's life, as a father, brother, or husband.....she doesnt have a brother.....aryan was the closest she was to a boy....and they are absolutely frank with each other, always have been....but its just that....the closest friend....like it is for her with padma n anji.....i guess i can be proud of being the only support, not just friend in her life....."


now facing armaan who was clinging to every word in rapt attention shashank could see, he continued with a small smile "correction, perhaps i WAS the ONLY one...." he said emphasizing those words....again holding him by his shoulder shashank said "armaan....what i am trying to say is...that i hope in you she will find, or hopefully already has found the support she looked for in me....someone who is not just her closest friend but her unsaid reliable shield.....cause i will not be there with her forever" as armaan showed some reaction to perhaps speak, he continued in a lighter tone chuckling "her knight in the shining armor as u lot of youngsters would say" armaan smiled hearing the words looking down to break the intensity of the moment, until he heard the grave tone again which made him look back up "and thats why armaan, i think you both need more time to know each other....less than month is perhaps alot more time than u need to decide that u love someone.....but it may prove to be far less than u can ever imagine for u to decide if that same person is the one you want to spend your life with....i dont want to sound orthodox at all....but the two things are essentially different though on the surface they appear the same....i was personally lucky, as was ur father, to have realized in good time that the ones we loved were the ones we wanted as life partners....n although thats exactly what ridhima n u claim right now, i want you to take more time....you like ridhima have a year to go at grad school i presume...." armaan nodded slightly, an inkling of a frown across his forehead,


shashank continued "you both are also of age where any elders, even parents themselves are no body to impose things on you....so the decisions will always be yours alone, if you decide that you dont need that much time and are sure about this thing, we will have a small gathering to announce about u both before u leave for the states.....but if you are confident your decisions will remain unaltered the test of time should not bother you, since its time spent together, n time which will prepare u both for a life to be spent together ahead....and it is as much my wish, as an advice that you both take that time together to know each other, not just at the usual good n bad levels of two people in love, but at the extremes of best n worst as mere individuals.....my opinion of you has been formed, and in case of either decision will be unaffected, as should be evident from the fact that um entrusting u with a decision which concerns the future of my daughter...her entire life ahead....so u should feel no obligation or pressure on my behalf, or padma's...or even ur dad.....i just wish to see my daughter happy, n if its you she seeks that happiness with um going to be the first one to shower my blessings.....the life is neither mine, nor padma's nor ur dads...its yours n ridhima's....n i want u both to be sure thats the way u want it.....ur the first among the kids whom i am having to talk this way to...about concerns too serious for ur age ....but aryan minnie, like anji atul, in my opinion had taken enough time to know each other.....of course that is essentially my opinion of the situations....."


then putting an arm around his shoulder shashank started walking towards the door, with armaan walking along and finished "u both can think this over n let me know what u decide....n of course, whatever ur decision, padma n i will be talking to ur father soon....i will be only too happy if my search for a groom ends at u....what else can i want other than being a content father of two happily settled daughters???" ...as it sounded like shashank wasnt going to say anymore armaan finally spoke "can i call u pa???" shashank smiled n nodded saying "well if u call padma mom, then u better be calling me pa, or um not going to be quite so pleasant with u!!" armaan broke in to a grin, then said more solemn tone "thanks pa....i will think over your advice, n whatever the case, i will never make u regret having given me this chance....ridhima...is as priceless to me, as she has ever been for u n PM...".....


~flashback ends~

**********

armaan now looked up at chris, finishing off the narration...while chris this time was looking straight ahead....after several quiet moments armaan said "Dad???" n chris finally looked at him...."did u talk to riddeeema???" armaan shook his head "she thought i was solemn n asked me if i wasnt happy or something like that, but i convinced her n said i was still under the shock that all had worked out....dad... i dont want to discuss this with her....i want to think of this alone, since i feel like this decision has been entrusted basically to me, though pa said we should discuss...." chris replied "but doesnt she have an equal right to decide how much time she needs...."

armaan nodded "she does dad....i just want to tell her about this after um sure of my decision here....i dont want her emotions or presence to bias my thoughts....it is obvious what pa said is accurate in each of his words....but...." armaan stopped sighing...."dad it feels like what i want in before me, n there is nothing to stop me from getting it except my own decision to not do so.....n um just....so insecure about losing....if i delay.....not that i doubt our love to stand a time test....but somehow....delay is never quite a good idea in relations.....n what if....well, i know u will say if we are meant to be we will be even after a year.....but dad, if....u know what i mean....i just will never be able to reconcile with my life on that one statement that IT WASNT MEANT TO BE......um just....scared of taking a chance with delay....i know nothing can change my mind...n i also know shashank papa is right when he says that it should not bother me since we are together n not seperate in that time....but....its this unnamed fear of...." he couldnt bring himself to even talk of a highly improbable circumstance in which things may not work out.....

chris having heard him out finally spoke "armaan, what ur saying is u want a commitment before the world binding the two of u....if that so called unnamed fear of urs was to come true, god forbid, then do u think just a public onligation will keep things from falling apart????i am proud of u to have chosen a girl like riddeeema, her personal attributes come in her genes today i can realize more than ever before.....shashank is absolutely right, we all are with whatever decision u make....just make sure u are peronally convinced about whatever step u take as being right for u n her...." armaan nodded....and chris decided he needed more time to think alone, so getting up he patted his head saying good night , n went back inside.....armaan sat splashing the water....hie mind fight not ready to take a break......he knew what was the right decision beyond suspicion, talking himself into taking it was the whole issue...........

****************
~5 days later~

he helped her with the seatbelt after having shoved their carry on baggages into the upper niche, and then slid into the seat by the window....on this journey back it was just the two of them, as muskaan had come with an extra week off in her plan than ridhima, n rahul had just extended his to spend time with her.....now as he settled making himself comfortable, he saw her crestfallen face....she had not said it, or cried, but he knew she was hating the farewell....putting is arm around her shoulder her pulled her closer n gave her a quick but passionate kiss on her cheek...she looked at him with a small smile, then looked away again gazing ahead....he pulled her back to face him again and said in a childlike whinning tone "look i didnt buy us any books this time, so i need someone to entertain me....." and saying so before she could react he snuggled upto her n scrutinizing everyone sitting in vicinity of them he asked with mock indignation, n hurt...."so what's distracting my princess away from the charms of her lord???i wish to see it too...."

she looked at him as he frowned in concentration searching for anyone interesting......she inevitably broke into a smile then shaking her head then she said a bit solemn "i am going to miss being home....." n as he looked at her the plane took off into the air.....n he moved back....she held onto his hand momentarily n he glancing at her gripped it tighter....."scared of flights???" even before she shook her head he realized the look on her face wasnt of fear but of someone in awe, as she leaned forward across him, the side of her face parallel to his front, he stared at her smile widening as they went higher, until all that was visible was the white mass of clouds just beneath them....n she whispered "i just love flying....." armaan smiled deeply n kissing her neck, nuzzled into her ear in a delighted whisper..."wow something in common between us at long last...." which made her look back at him....still smiling he couldnt resist giving her a quick kiss on her lips, n he said turning to face the window, without looking at her, staring at the clouds as she had been.."u wana play the cloud game???" ...she broke into a mocking grin n said

"huh????did u just make that up???"....he looked back at her with an incredulous look n said "U HAVENT HEARD OF IT????" as if it was criminal for her to confirm a yes to that question....slowly shaking his head, he got up, as the seat belt indication had now turned off, and pulled her handbag out, then much to her horror he started rummaging through it, as she tried to snatch it away he pulled it out of her reach n continued his search, until he found a notebook n a pen....and pulled them both out....shoving the bag into her hands he opened the diary but was shocked by her reaction as she snatched it away a bit too roughly n said glaring at him "WHAT DO U THINK UR DOING????ur not supposed to look up my personal stuff like that do i make myself clear????" he was taken aback by her sudden anger n was going to answer when he read the words on the cover of the diary "dear diary...." and he broke into a sheepish grin then looking at her he asked "leme guess....that thing contains love letters addressed to our late mr. newton!!!" and as he winked at her, she hated herself for smiling back at him, n hit him on his chest....

he recoiled n then said "anyways, if u havent filled out all those pages with sweet nothings to ur childhood sweetheart, all i was going to do was get a page out of it...." ridhima put the journal back into her bag n opening an outer zip, handed him a slip pad...."u could have just asked me...." he took the bag out of her hands n got up to put it back disturbing her position a third time, making her groan....then sitting back he said "do u really expect me to ask u????theres no secrets between us so whats with me not reading the diary????" she retorted with a teasing look "well not quite so soon honey....u decided to go ahead n take time instead of getting engaged right away....what if after reading my black secrets u decide to leave me.....all my secrets go with u???no ways..." she said in a mischievous tone tossing hr head in mock indignation,

but he looked at her narrowing his eyes and pulling her close almost too possessively he said in a serious tone "leave u????a thousand such diaries with a billion dark secrets will not make me do that....n i took that decision because mush as i hated it, pa was right about what he said, n more than us, um giving our elders the time to realize that we are indeed meant to be as we claim....n not because i need time to investigate about u n find reasons to dump u....do i make myself clear now????" she nodded a bit guilty realizing he took her joke to the heart n looking into his eyes she said "i know armaan...i was just teasing u...um sor...." he cut her off kissing her on her lips, with deep and hard passion...like it was his way of saying that she should never ever entertain that thought even in her nightmares, cause nothing would make him let her go.....and she kissed back with the same passion willing him to know she knew what he meant, n felt the same way....

as they broke apart, she looked down blushing, conscious of the many strangers they were amidst although it was dark in the plain since it was an early morning flight n most people were sleeping.....he mad her look back at him and said "u never think, leave alone utter that thought again....promise???" she nodded her head vigorously and placing her hand in his n the other hand over their grip as if fastening the two she said "i promise..." n smiled at him....he looked into her eyes a few moments, then looked out of the window n then looking back at her with a grin he said "so i can read the diary????" she shook her head, then nodded then said with a sigh "there's nothing in it to hide from u...just....silly girly narrations....n i would be....looking down fiddling with his fingers "just...embarrased u know if u....." he lifted her face from her chin and said with a smile "aaawww my princess turning red!!!!....just kidding....i dont need to read it to know stuff il just ask u when i have to.....ok?????"

she nodded resting her head on his chest and he said...."so where were we???oh yeh cloud game....nowhere close to being as interesting as reading ur journal might have been, but its reasonably entertaining....n um invincible...lets see if u can change that record..." she looked at him waiting for him to proceed as he drew a vertical line running through the centre of the page....writing their name. one atop each column..." and then looking back at her he explained "thats for score keeping....basically we each alternately look out for a familiar shape in the clouds....n the other person times the one on a lookout....whoever gets most shapes in least time, in say 20 rounds, wins.....what say????" she broke out grinning, n shaking her head she said taunting him "i bet your cheerleading chicks dont know thats what their star captain does to pass time on a flight!!!" he smiled at her gleeful look and said giving her a peck on her nose "no they dont....its one of my what u call a dark secret...." n he winked at her as she giggled more....

and they started with armaan looking out for a shape....within 15 seconds he pointed out a cloud which, ridhima could not deny, did look like a bowlers hat....she marked his score n started her lookout, it was hard since it take a trained eye to perceive images although they all looked like something she was having a hard time pinning down what, and after almost a minute as she leaned almost half way across him he said "timeout" she turned to face him n he continued "i think i will make this atleast a bit more easy..." n saying so he lifted her slightly n made her settle in his lap....her legs stretched and resting on the seat she had been sitting on....and he said without looking at her "isnt that a better view???" he looked up at her getting no answer to find her looking all around at the other people he sensed her discomfort n shaking his head he said

"ridziiiii! everyones sleeping n even if they are not, i promise no hanky panky...only the game....trust me n relax...." she smiled more at ease hearing the words n especially his direct tone....n looking out of window she realized he was right the view was muc better.... so they played on....he was dam good, never took over 20seconds, but hse amazed him with the speed at which she was picking up the tricks n getting better....between the two of them they had spotted ice cream cone, cup n saucer, a clump of trees, a tortoise like shape, a werewolf face and many more....ridhima claimed having seen a face like harry potters...which armaan wasnt agreeing too, but as she turned grumpily pouting her lips he gave in n said "ok fine...potter it is...." and she smiled giving him a hug...."um not letting u bribe through one more round get that straight...." he said laughing at her....and then he looked out, his turn....

within 7 seconds he said excited since this was short duration even by his excellent standards "oh theres a....." he stopped...then muttered "never mind....." n ridhima curious anout what he had seen n dint want to show her looked out but could discern no shape....looking back at him she asked "what was it????c'mon this is the last round u can win cause this was just 6-7seconds...." he shook his head muttering "there wasnt anything i just thought for a moment...but it wasnt..." but ridhima realized it was one of those rare occasions when he was actually blushing so she knew without question he was lying....so she said "u tell me what it was or um the winner without playing this round..." he looked up at her indignantly n said "who made that rule???it doesnt work that way...." she shook her head n said "no its that way or i abandon the game..." he sighed and said "ok u win...."

...."WHAT????" she said as loudly as she could without waking up everyone around ..."armaan....now i really have to know what did u see?????" he looked up at her irritated "i dint see anything....u win ok????be glad u beat the unbeaten champion...." and he looked away like a kid who had lost his precious marbles in a silly video game bet....she turned his face towards her and said "did u see a hot chick" with narrowed eyes n a frown, yet grinning in a teasing way....she was surprised to see him blush even more...n he said "of course not..." in a low voice....and she grinned saying "oh so thats what u saw....wow!!!how creative, u see girls even in the cloud shapes!!!god save me from having fallen for a casanova...." he glared at her n said through gritted teeth "that is not what i saw...."

and she said immediately with a snap of her finger "aha! gotcha!....so u admit u saw something!!!" armaan groaned making a face then said "stop emabrrasing me....um not telling u wat i saw, n how do u care u can gloat at a victory which is in fair terms never possible..." ridhima shook her head n said "nah i want to know...pleassssssse sweetheart....tell me....u want me to die???" he looked at her shocked as she said grinning in a naughty way "ever heard of how curiosity killed the cat!!!" armaan gave her an indignant look....but she moved closer n gave him a quick peck on his lips...."please please please!!!" he shook his head helplessly at her childlike excitement, n cute antics to get her way..."i uh....look seriously leave it...." he pleaded....

"fine" she said trying to get up from his lap to get back to her own seat but he pulled her back and said "alright alright....women!!!" and as she looked at him expecvtantly with a grin he said scratching his head not looking at her "it was like....a....i mean....like women.....lingerie....now dont ask what" she burst out laughing and he looked up shocked first at her and then all around hoping she had not woken up people around when he felt her lips against his ear as she whispered "everyone's sleeping remember u told me urslef...just relax!!!" and as he looked back at her she was still giggling helplessly, and seeing him blush further as he averted his gaze she pulled him into a hug n said "aaaawwwww my lord is blushing!!!!" he pulled her away n said irritated "stop copying my lines..." and looked away grumpy n still a bit flustered so she moved forward n gave him a quick peck on his cheek n said ..."u win the game!!!" he turned looking at her with a reluctant smile, which widened as they both just looked at each other smiling for many moments.....

**************

~Part 29~


As he walked down the stairs he was surprised to see light coming from the dining-kitchen area...he moved stealthily not making a sound wondering what or who he would see...it was hard to not make a sound, the wooden stairs were bound to creek so he almost crawled down the stairs his senses now fully active, despite the early morning hour of 3AM....but he stopped with atleast another 6 steps to go as the sight caught his eye...n he stopped crawling, and sat down on that step watching.....as ridhima stood with her back towards him, working on a large white board in the kitchen.....it was where muskaan n she usually made lists for the household chores, shopping and grocery lists, and the 'remember to do' tasks....but right now all he could see was a mess of numbers....and figures.....and sections which were crossed and sections which were circled, as she stood chewing the marker cap....her hair in a lose bun held together by a...CHOPSTICK???


shaking his head n rolling his eyes he looked around to see that she had probably been in the middle of cooking cause there were mixing bowls lying on the shelf with some stuff inside, and some potatoes on the cutting board.....he couldnt help grinning at the sight....3AM in the morning....first she is insane to be cooking at this hour, n then if that wasnt enough she leaves the food in the middle of nowhere and starts working digits on the kitchen board....he saw her imapatiently rub the board, and as she bent down to pick up the marker she had dropped he saw her frown not quite hidden behind her rimless glasses...and standing back again, she stared at the board for a few moments...he realized she was muttering to herself but couldnt hear what.....not like he could have expected himself to make much sense of it anyways....and she sighed, running her hand through the lose strands of hair falling on her face, pushing them back n behind her ears as she said louder this time so it was audible to him...


"where the hell is this factor resulting from???" and then he saw her pace only five steps in each direction looking down n talking out loud to herself, debating.....obviously oblivious to his presence, one cause she was so engrossed n second cause he was in the dark n she in the lit area so while he could see everything clearly she was hardly likely to have seen him....."the intensity has to be proportional to the square of the field...n that it is....n in the fibre, the scattering is leading to a fourth power wavelength factor.....that is fine too....but why this noise factor....ok....think ridzi....maybe it can be neglected....but...." she stopped facing the board again..."so if i removed it from here....n put a negligible ebsilon....lets see...that does balance out the equation doesnt it???but whats the assumption then.....point....u need an assumption girl, cant just pull out variables....c'mon....intensity...n field....no change....perhaps the scattering....wouldnt it depend on the width??bad question girl of course it would...n it is....thats what the wavelength is doing right....n....OMG....thats it!!!"


armaan who had slightly dozed off watching her woke up hearing her shriek and saw her doing some vigorous work on the board now....he walked towards her, not caring for the silence he was so certain she wasnt likely to notice anything at that moment anyways.....and as he reached closer she placed the marker back in place and stood staring at the board...he moved closer, while she snapped her fingers at the board, and then stretched her arms yawning.....mumbling and groaning...."mmmmmmmm sooooo sleepy...." he smiled shaking his head and then as she continued flexing her arms, neck and back...he slid his arms around her waist hugging her from behind saying "humans usually are, at 3AM...."


she jerked feeling the sudden touch around he waist, taken aback by at his unannounced appearence then looking at him as he rested his chin on her shoulder , his hair messy, n eyes sleepy with a dreamy smile, looking back at her she said "armaaaan u scared me....can u ever stop creeping on me like that???n what are u doing here so late in the night..." he kissed her cheek and mumbled grinning in her ear "look who's talking...anyways dont worry i am not threatening competition to ur title for being the world's craziest nocturnal....was just thirsty so came looking for water....but then i saw u...n i just couldnt stop staring...u never cease to amaze me honey.....who does this stuff in this hour of the night???" she turned around in his arms indignant "i do....anyways i was hungry so i came to cook soma snack, but then i just had this sudden piece falling in place about my research....i wasnt sure but it seemed like a i had a sudden idea so i was just doing that...."


he stared at her incredibly and said "u get ideas about physics when ur cooking???u know um glad muskaan is not back this week....staying in the same house is giving me an insight into the crazy girl i fell for...." then with a teasing grin he added "do what u want for now....um never going to let u think physics in the nights when um boss....i have better plans to keep u awake with...." and he kissed her on the curve of her neck.....massaging her back in a relaxing way, while she feeling herself lose her wits with his sensuous touch managed to retort after considerable effort "well thats quite sometime away....for now, ur in my house n um boss...n that too only till muskaan doesnt return n take her room back from u...." he frowned letting her lose then scratching his head he said


"ur right....i will have to leave when she comes back....dam i have been here for 4 days n i feel like i lived this way all my life....this is so a part of me now n....." then looking up into her eyes he said innocently "ridzi can we ask her to move in with rahul for good???" ridhima shook her head "ofcourse not armaan...i mean....i...we...we cant just live....i mean not before...." he looked at her n realized her discomfort and smiling in realization he said "sweetheart u got me wrong....i just meant we could stay this way, share the house not....i mean....u know we are into such different programs of study n atleast this way we will be sure to spend sometime together everyday...." seeing she still looked unsure he cupped her face making her look into his eyes n said "honey, i know we are not formally committed yet....n i know i was the one to take that decision...but i told u the reason....and pa wants us to spend this year together so we can know each other inside out....what could be better than this way????"


she spoke at last "armaan i...its like just us....n thats like....." he cut her off "trust me honey, i respect your culture...n ur values.....i respect u n our relation....n there will never be any violation of each other's space.....its just going to be like it is for u to share the house with any other housemate...." ...she interrupted "i trust u completely armaan...its not u...its....." he saw ridhima's eyes....which spoke volumes, and he knew she could perhaps not say no to him....but she wasnt sure if this was right....he knew it was....but he wouldnt force it on her....there was another way...and so he said with a smile "alright....bad idea....drop it....." and he saw the look of relief flood back into into her eyes as she smiled at him, still not speaking but willing him to know how much his understanding meant to her....she couldnt explain this in words....but it wasnt him she dint trust, it was her wild desires which seemed to get out of control at his each caress...she dint think her resolve or guard could stand against him too long if they lived under the same roof just she n him....as her expressions n eyes continued to swim with a surge of emotions looking at him with an unwavering gaze he couldnt help but kiss her slightly parted soft lips, and as he was going to pull back he felt her lips holding him back.....



and he pulled her closer into the liplock the intensity rising though it still remained a tender kiss.....as she fingered through his hair, and he continued massaging her starined back and neck....as they finally broke away, he whispered in a cheeky sensuous voice "isnt that a much more befitting act for 3AM???" she snuggled her head into his chest and spoke her lips brushing his bare skin on the chest, "what do u do to me armaan.....um so totally losing myself honey....if u ever....." she stopped immediately remembering he had told her to never think that again....yes...he would never let anything go wrong....he would always be there for her.....she should stop feeling insecure.....she had been almost disappointed by his decision to postpone the engagement though she knew he was being the man everyone expected him to be....n that it was the right thing....but she didnt know if she really could survive to stay away from him this long.....and feeling his lips on her forehead she whispered kissing his chest "i love u....like crazy....." she raised her eyes to meet his gaze and he saw her longing, he knew they had to get out of this moment....


n so caressing her cheek he said "so what was my lady trying to cook before physics took over her senses as usual...." she broke into a grin and punching him she smiled deeply, in that one moment she had indeed wanted to surrender to him, but his words had brought her back.....n she realized what he had saved her from.....she figured that even if she had to list down the traits she would expect in her man, armaan anyday would exceed them all n have many more....what had she done to deserve him, what indeed.....and she felt herself lifted off her feet, as he placed her on the counter and looking at the things lying around said in a delighted voice looking up "paranthas????" she nodded smiling and said "but i remember u were just plain thirsty so grab ur bottle n get going, post midnight snacking leads to nightmares....." he rolled his eyes and said "go without eating paranthas????u wish sweetheart....n nightmares stopped scaring me since i saw u...." and ducked as she threw the rolling pin at him....then running out of the kitchen as she jumped off the counter to chase him........


**************



he moved towards her finally managing to rid himself of the innumerous girls mostly drunk....and saw one of the guys from his team chatting with her as she laughed hearing him.....and excusing the two of them he steered her out of the party hall....it was new year's eve ....the perfect moment he had chosen for the surprise.....although he alone knew how hard it had been, using all his contacts n sources to fix this up in 48hours, without her getting a whiff of it....ridhima meanwile smiled....she had wanted to spend time with him alone, since rahul n muskaan was coming back next evening n then within couple of days school too would start....but when he mentioned how his friends from the team n cheerleading group wanted to throw a party for the two of them she had smiled at him accepting the idea....the last thing she wanted was for him to have to change his lifestyles for her....he meant a world to her, n his love n concern over the very short month had already proved to her how he would do whatever she wanted him to....as she would for him....but she wanted this relation to grow into their existing lives, not as a separate part, cutting off their past friends circles n social life....n if his friends were ready to welcome her as a part of them for him, she too would put in her effort for him.....


he introduced her to the guys, most of them were absolute flirts, but quite fun, n they kept the needed space with her.....which raised her admiration for armaan...they indeed treated him as a league higher, n now her, cause she was with him.....the girls meanwile had been really sweet to her too....way too sweet as per her usual experience but she passed that off as their way of welcoming her, armaans's lady into the group....he was a star..n she was a star's girl...they perhaps wanted her to feel extra special.....with time they would realize that she was simple n they did not have to go out of the way to please her.....for now she thought, she fit well in the group....aptly dressed in a red n black off shoulder body hugging knee length dress, with the benz broach pinned to the left corner....but she couldnt help notice how she was more comfortable with the guys than the girls...the latter were....exceedingly sweet....n...almost made it a stiffly formal atmosphere for her treating her like that....n she wasnt sure if that was normal, but put it off herself for then....


the only thing getting to her was the fact that all this dancing wasnt letting her spend time with armaan...cause someone would take him away for dancing, n then some other guy would seeing her alone, politely ask her for a dance as well....they had changed so many partners, that she felt the one man in the place she really wanted to be with was the one she danced least with....after the opening dance of course....it seemed to be the way the party was......now as alex, the vice captain on the team was telling her about their game seasons n all....he took her out grabbing their coats n mufflers from the rack, she felt grateful to him for this....he helped her into her coat n they stepped out into the chilly winter wind.....and he pulled her closer....


for several moments they were just enjoying each other's company then he spoke "waiting for your comments honey..." she said with a smile "they were nice people....n it was sweet of them to treat us this way...um touched..." he looked at her as she looked ahead and said "you didnt have fun.....um sorry ridzi....." which made her look at him n she answered immediately "no no no armaan ur getting me wrong....it was a great bash....n i am a party person usually....but i just wish i could have spent more time with u and...." he silenced her with a finger on her lips and said "me too....but it isnt that late now is it....not for my owl princess at least....we got the whole night ahead....n well...there bis something i want to show u...." she gave him a questioning look he smiled at her and said with his eyes alone indicated her to follow him....she did, and after they got into the car, she looked at him again but before she could ask the obvious question he said...."u will know where we are going and why after we reach there....till then no questions, its a surprise...." and she closed her mouth, giving a series of questions as she considered n rejected the various possibilities of what it could be like she would for a physics problem!!!....


he glanced at her every few seconds as she looked cute n confused like a little kid....he grinned...shaking his head n muttered..."can i ever get enough of her???"as they closed on to a neighbourhood, ridhima scanned the whole place....and said almost groaning "are we here to meet somesome???" he looked at her giving her a mocking smile and said "we did enough of meeting people for tonight i guess.... n incase the word surprise sounds new to u....it implies um not supposed to tell u...." she made a face at him and turned to look out of the window again...and he said "did i tell u how gorgeous u look tonight???" she blushed, but did not turn around n he went on "i had such a hard time keeping all those guys off u honey....had to reasort to threatening them about their positions on the team if they did not stop trying to make moves..." she blushed deeper now, n turning around said with a mock angry look "yeh right, and when exactly did u get time to spare me a glance???cause i did not see you free from those cheerleaders for a single moment tonight...." pulling the car to a halt he turned in his seat facing her n looking at her with narrowed eyes for a few moments, rolling his tongue in his mouth....as she finally looked back at him getting conscious of his stare, he just turned back n got out of the car....


n she was taken aback....i was just joking she thought....did i hurt him???shoot! ridzi...can u ever think before u speak....she was busy self reprimanding herself when she felt his hand take hold of hers....n she realized he had come to her side of the car, n opened the door for her....still quiet...giving her hand to him she gave him a guilty look n whispered "um sorry did u..." he silenced her with his look, and then as she stepped out her eyes fixed on his face he gave her his arched elbow and she slid her arm through it, n felt herself pulled closer to him....and she did not quite notice where he was taking her as he walked up the steps of a house, and hit the knocker hard three times....bringing her back to her senses, and she looke at the door momentarily for the first time and asked againg "i thought u said...."


...."ssshhhhh" he whispered looking into her eyes finally though still not speaking, and she kept quiet....what in the world is happening here she wondered and the very next moment was engulfed in two pairs of arms coming out from the darkness....but the familiar chirpy laugh was hard to miss..."ridzi ....its so good to see u girl...."...."absolutely...missed u and ammy sooooo much..." as they released her rahul winked at armaan, while she stood zapped...till slowly, she started coming around again and said in an unbelievable voice "reg...muski....u both were coming tomorrow right??????" muskaan said teasing "disappointed huh???" and before she could reply armaan pulled her closer and said "time to step into our new house...." she stared at him, not sure of her exact emotion....our house????like their house????omg!!!!but....no no no...she couldnt live with him cause.....but....wont it be just heavenly to be able to come back to a house n know he was there n .....no ridzi get a grip....u have to stop this...n i told him so....


aloud she said "our house????" almost in a hoarse whisper....and rahul replied "yes our house..." now she looked even more shocked but before any of them could talk the hour struck 12 n the pendulum of a huge clock somewhere in there rung....n the lights came on and ridhima looked to see a decently large hall....with balloons n streamers....and flowers n wall hangings....in fact it did not look like an extraordinary job as far as the decoration was concerned but the house looked so cosy n well set....she loved the look in its very first sight....and she forgot the question still in her mind....but armaan hugged her now....n kissing her hair he said "happy new year sweetheart!!!!" and rahul wished muskaan....n then said "ok dude, we need to get going, already late for the bash...." n they left hugging ridhima and armaan n wishing them....


before ridhima could say much....even give a proper reaction wishing them back........n then she heard armaan whisper "when are u shooting ur question honey...um waiting...." and she turned around her eyes just big n confused, unblinking as she looked at him...n managed to say "yeh...ummm...what....what is happening...." armaan grinned looking at her...then looking around him scanning the house he said "what do u think of our new house???" knowing how tormented she was in the turnmoil of thoughts but not wanting to give up the chance to tease her...there she goes he thought looking back at her seeing her frown....he couldnt help laughing n then as her frown deepened to a more disgusted one he pulled her close placing a tender kiss on her lips and continued in a hoarse whisper "u n me...."


and placing another small kiss in the process of talking as she closed her eyes trying to remain steady, him n me she thought...and he saw he lips trembling in a small smile, which widened his smile as he continued now nuzzling her neck and whispering in her ear "n muski n reg...." and he looked at her face for her reaction...she was still smiling...but a couple of seconds late she jerked open her eyes..."WHAT????" and he pulled himself back grinning at her in a naughty way, and shrugged with a "you heard me' look...and she looked down into the thin air at nothing....and he knew she was onto her debating analysis again as her expressions changed rapidly....


he sighed n pulling her closer made her look at him and said "gosh how much do u think....its simple....four of us are moving in here....i arranged for a sublet for our other appartments since alot of new students are joining in the winter term....and yeh...before doing any of that i talked to pa n PM....explaining ALL details, missing NOTHING...." he emphasized the words....and pausing as she looked at him her eyes widening "n they said it was fine....its just the grad housing style living in groups we all have our own rooms u girls get the 1st floor so u can cook for us!!!" he said winking at her cheekily...."n we take the 2nd floor n the terrace so we can fix terrace parties for our girlfriends there!!!...n pa n PM said that sounded great....so they had no trouble with it....i think reg talked to muskaan's family, or maybe aryan did, i didnt ask them....but so we arranged to surprise u with this....n now...."


he paused pulling her closer still looking deep into her eyes "i hope my princess will not refuse the preposition we put forth...." she gazed at him for several long seconds....and then said, just managing a whisper "how....how do u....i mean....do u always have a way out????" he did not speak waiting for his answer although her question back was confirmation enough....and she said "its.....incredible....um just...." she shook her head slightly looking down finally trying to get the whole picture clear....and said looking up in to his eyes meaningfully...."i love it....n i would be crazy to refuse something like this....i mean..." she hugged him tight her arms around his neck, and her head snuggling into his chest...."i hated saying no to u that evening, cause deep inside i knew i didnt want to, but i was just not prepared to....n u....i mean i couldnt have ever thought of this....n u even...asked mum pa...i....just dont know what to say n...."


...." well then dont....uv said enough.....i cant tell u how relaxed i am that u like the idea...." he pulled her back and said looking at her "one week together with u, and i just couldnt see myself letting that go ridzi....i felt like i could never call my apartment a home again if i did not come back to see you there....but i didnt wana force u into it, that just defeats the purpose of it all right???i want u to be happy...n i want to be happy myself...n i realized the point was i wanted us to be happy...together...and so....." he left it at that....she broke out of his grip and moved around slowly....looking at everything, while he followed her with his eyes alone....and then she slumped into a couch....lowering her face in her hands....he hastily moved towards her....and kneeling down by her side he whispered "ridzi???" in a concerned voice....she nodded her head without removing her hands and he waited....then finally removing her hands she looked into his eyes smiling....n he relaxed slightly...


she said "our house....OUR HOUSE" and she jumped yelling the second time she repeated the words n then just pulled him up went in circles really fast making him do the same as she laughed out loud screaming "OMG...OUR HOUSE....ARMAAAAAN....CAN U BELIEVE IT...." armaan couldnt help laughing himself, but feeling like they would fall soon if she didnt stop he yanked her closer pulling her into a hug and stopped the twirling...."gosh....u are such a kid....how do handle physics???takes me ages to explain simple things to a slow coach like u....yeh i can believe its our house sweetheart cause iv been doing nothing but working out the details for the past couple of days...and then pulling her apart he said giving her a mock angry look..."and look at what i get in return...u havent even wished me for new years yet...." he was startled for a moment by how instant ridhima's reaction was, as she pulled him into a liplock taking an initiative for the first time, and they sank into the couch kissing passionately, feeling blissfully complete just being in each others arms....


*************


~about a week later~


"here you are.....shouldnt u be at the desk to help out people with the books????" ridhima turned around with a slight frown hearing the tone of the remark shot at her....but she smiled immediately seeing her "hey sandy!!how u doing???n no i have duty in the stacks today...the desk remains closed for the weekends....but anyways...can i help u???" ..."its sandra, if u please....."said the girl in an edgy sarcastic tone then giving an icy smile "sandy is for friends...n ur at..."looking around with a demeaning air "ur workplace right now...lets maintain the decorum...." ridhima was almost startled by the attitude she was facing from the girl who had been angelic at the new years party....has she forgotten me???

trying again she said with a warm smile "i think u did not recognize me um..." ..."our captain's new found love....i know...." as ridhima frowned at her selection of words she continued with a sugar smile "dont mind um kinda busy....look up these books for me, il be back in a wile...."


as she turned around to move, ridhima found her voice finally and said in a professional tone herself now "um not on look up duty today....there is another guy who is....u might have to look for him, he'll be around here somewhere...mike...." and before either of them could speak another word they heard a third voice "looking for me are u, ur highness...." and ridhima turned to look at him, her lips breaking into a warm smile..."mike!" she exclaimed giving him a friendly hug...."good to see you, i asked megan n she mentioned u were getting back from the break today...." mike grinned and said in a teasing tone "um delighted indeed to not have been forgotten, in fact specially remembered by ur highness, future lady benz, our captain's sweetheart...." ridhima blushed and was about to answer when they were interrupted by a cold voice "if the reunion is over....um in a hurry...." and saying so she handed the list of books to mike who gave her a look with raised eyebrows...then winking back at ridhima left the spot....ridhima now simply turned back to her shelving....not wanting to proceed with the unpleasant conversataion which had thankfully been interrupted....


but sandra resumed"the captain's sweetheart....." and she laughed in a way which sent chills down ridhima's spine n so putting the books aside she turned to face her and said "would that be an issue for u????" in a straight voice, no anger, no sarcasm, no jealousy....and sandra replied her voice dripping with mockery..."me???of course not darling....what makes u think someone like u could be an issue for sandra???not even in your dreams.....its you who should have an issue, if u are serious about my AB....u see um not unaccustomed to him fetching new girls to humor himself every couple of weeks or so....like i go for random one night stands....we give each other space in the relation....but he comes back to me....each time...when its the real stuff he is looking for....we have been together for over 4 years now, and everybody knows that in the end its him n me....." as ridhima stared at her, expressionless, rendered speechless by the words she couldnt believe she was hearing for real...while sandra, turning around now made a move, then looking back again she added "n go ahead with ur whinning before him to complain about me....except that u will soon realize its all in vain....AB knows his priorities in life, and i guess if u have an inch of logic in ur head u would hardly expect him to come after his lead cheerleader n love for a monthly lust like u...."


**************

~Part 30~


"hey! i was loking for ridzi...i mean ridhima she....." mike interrupted "she shelving at the very end of the right side aisles captain...." armaan nodded acknowledging the recognition n smiled in thanks and was going to move when mike added "o n captain, congratulations! i don't mean to get personal but she been mighty good to this black brute u see facing u....i been working at the library for over 5 years now....n i can tell ya one thing....ur sure is a lucky man!!!...take good care of the lady" armaan grinned and giving mike a friendly hug he said "i will...thanks mate, il catch ya around sometime then..." and he moved towards the right end, smiling to himself....


************


my AB...monthly lust.....lead cheerleader.....she shelved without connectivity to what she was doing as the words echoed in her head over n over again....she was at a complete lack of reaction....her eyes were reading the call numbers off the book spines and her hands were mechanically shelving them in order of the same....but they were in no coordination with her mind....she did not even realize that she had been shelving the shelf under the top shelf without a stool, standing on her toes, her hands could barely reach it....but she was not focusing on how and what she was doing.....as she pulled out a couple of wrongly shelved books, with great effort craning her neck....her deft eyes detecting the misshelving even though they looked at nothing in particular....and she rearranged them putting them back one by one.....captain's newfound love.....new girls to humor himself.....


she thrust the books almost roughly with every passing moment....her face still blank as she continued staring at nothing while her hands were busy at work.....and she bent down holding her knees her eyes shut for a moment letting out a sigh....then she turned back to the cart, same mechanical manner, but some where inside desperation was rising and she picked up 6 books in a go, instead of a usual 2-3....n then holding onto them in one arm, she craned her neck again, rising to her toes, starting to shelve....it was a definite uncomfortable position, but as she thrust the books roughly again she was treating the physical straining of muscles as a vent...it was a bad idea, as a couple of the last books she had fixed onto the shelf moved to fall having not quite fit right, and as she put her hand above her head as a spontaneous reaction to shield while moving out of the way....while the 3 books in her arm threatened to slip out....and trying to save them she moved her shielding hand out of the way and her eyes scrunched expecting the books to fall on her......


"WHOOAAAA!" she jerked open her eyes in time to see him catch the books just before they hit her head....and as she gave him the same blank look, he said, putting the books aside without looking at her "ridziiii???that would have hit u hard...." and turning around he gave her a reprimanding look and then seeing another 3 in her arm took those from her n put them aside as well...facing her again he said "what were u thinking huh????" then seeing that she looked lost n wasnt reacting much....in fact had not spoken a word in her defense he said in a softer voice "why didnt u use the stool honey....u know u arent that tall..." he said the last line like a naughty comment....she gave him a dirty look and said "um happy being short...but u can go get urself a tall girl whenever u want...." he grinned thinking finally! she retorts i was beginning to think what's up with her...


n so he resumed teasing her "thats not a bad idea....lets see....why dont u help me select one...." saying so he took out a packet and opening it took out some photographs....n continued "those are the pics from the new year bash...." and shuffling through them he started handing her certain pics each of him with one of the girls..."what do u think of her...alicia...or this one...janice.....or.....sandra....oh yeh...what about tessa????" he looked up grinning to see her reaction as she stood staring at one of the pictures in her hand...he bent closer to her n glancing at the one she was glued to he said patting her "good choice sweetheart...sandy is the tallest n the hottest in the group....the lead cheerleader has to be the very best of course...."....seeing her raise her eyes from her rimless glasses to see him, he wasnt sure he could read that look but not waiting to think he pulled out a rolled chart size picture from his backpack....n looking at it he said with a sigh n a smile "but i already made up my mind....this is the one i finalised....what do u think..." and he softly put a beautiful poster size pic of him and her into her hands....they looked perfect as he kissed her hair his arm around her while she laughed.....her look softened seeing the picture....it was taken when he introduced them to her....


"ladies...n gentlemen...presenting the future lady benz...." n as he pulled her closer alex had said "finally someone our captain will gladly lose to...." which had made ridhima laugh as he kissed her head smiling....but as the other pictures from her hand fell down her eyes caught his picture with sandra again, and she just stared...."ridzi???do u like it honey???" he asked snapping his fingers before her eyes to catch her attention...she looked up at his expectant face n gave a faint smile nodding and said "yeh...its nice...." seeing his disappointed look she quickly added "very nice...." he narrowed his eyes and taking the poster from her he put it aside....then taking her hands into his own as she looked into his eyes he asked "what happened princess????whats wrong???"


she lowered her eyes and said "no...nothing i mean....nothing's wrong...." then looking at him again she smiled deeper than before and said "its really nice....do u want to put it up somewhere???" he frowned slightly n not letting go he said "ridhima??whats on ur mind honey????" she looked away again hearing his tone and sighing she said "i ummmm...just...." then looking back at him "just the research....something in the lab wasnt working quite like it should so...." armaan bent to kiss her forehead and whispered "are u sure thats all???" she nodded then pulling her hands free gently she said "armaan u should leave um on duty for another half an hour...." and as she turned to the shelf he looked at her not quite convinced....then said "ok...i will wait on the couches opposite the staff area for u...lets go out for dinner after ur done...." she looked at him then picking up a couple of books from the cart she said avoiding his eyes


"i actually cant....i mean....um staying back at the lab tonite....gonna try working out that problem...." he stood a few moments looking at her, but she didnt look back, fearing she would give herself away....then giving a small smile he pulled her into a hug and giving her a quick peck on the cheek he said "i understand...." then lifting her to face him he said "but ur not going to stress urself, n dont skip dinner, n i will pick u up in the morning call me when ur done...." she nodded and he added "ur sure there is no other problem???" she nodded again lowering her eyes and said "bye armaan..." n he left reluctantly after pausing another couple of moments, then taking the pictures n the poster with him.....


*************


she walked to the lab....more like dragged her feet towards it....her head n heart both felt like a mess....she just couldnt stop thinking.....after over 2 hours of thinking she knew she trusted armaan....n his love for her....no matter what anyone said she knew he loved her exactly the way she loved him......so what was bothering her...sandra's words???perhaps...but why should they if she trusted him....she just wished she could talk to him...but what would she say????she did not want any issues raised between him n sandra...or any of his team or cheerleaders or other friends in fact....she wanted to be his support, his asset in life, n getting him mad over the lead cheerleader did not appear to be a good place to start that...as she unlocked her lab n dropped her backpack on the floor turning on the lights she moved with a disoriented mind towards the apparatus set up....perhaps she should have gone out for dinner with him....what was the point lying to him anyways....there was nothing to do in the lab....well nothing enough to engage her the whole night atleast...she sighed...but i wanted to be alone that time....dam now that would make her think too much....she so should have gone out with him....


she pulled out her cell to call him then put it back in....what would she say now???why the hell did i lie to him she thought frowning....well cause i couldnt tell him all that stuff sandra said...why cant i tell him????um sure he will be mature n wont over react n he ought to know....but....she slid to the floor resting against the wall....no she wasnt going to whine before him....she couldnt be that weak....n telling him would be like saying she dint trust him n had been swayed by sandra's words....but hadnt she been???was she scared of telling him cause....she feared even thinking this....but could sandra be right????not about him not loving her....he loves me n nothing can deny that i just know it she thought....but....had sandra been right about....like....was she...ridhima....worth him????was she really worth being the CAPTAIN'S SWEETHEART????n if she told him all of the conversation wouldnt it be like asking for his sympathy????couldnt she stand up to things herself????in fact...couldnt she just ignore that woman???armaan cares for me then why should i even give this all a thought????but why does he care about me????cause he loves u ridzi....but why....no how can he love me....but he does thats what matters....


she sighed...."i have to get down to some work.... something to stop thinking" she muttered....and looked about...then she remembered there was some cutting to be done....to make uniform polarizer scraps, and insulation scraps....she unlocked the closet n pulled out the sheet cutter....n then the roll of polarizer sheet....relax ridzi she thought....think later....right now is a bad time...yeh yeh right....only work for now....n she set the cutter in position then deftly she started cutting equal pieces....n she started humming soem random song to keep her self occupied.....after about 10 minutes she was done with the whole roll....so she went back to the closet to get the next....but after 5 minutes of turning the closet inside out she shut it frowning where did andy put the new rools they had ordered.....n she looked all around scanning the likely spots with her eyes....n then she saw them at the top of another closet....standing next to it she looked up n muttered "andy dude what were u thinking putting it up so high....n she pulled a chair n stood on it balancing precariously, after a few seconds she managed to pull off the roll....however the chair toppled in the process n she slipped off it losing her balance, but didnt have a hard fall as she managed to grab the cabinet n break her fall...."dam!" she cursed brushing off her elbow which was slightly nicked from an edge....


great she thought...why couldnt i be taller???n thinking so her mind reeled back to the same thoughts....sandra is the tallest n the hottest in the group....she remembered his words....n then her eyes fell on her reflection on the black window glass, darkened for preventing the sunlight to fall on certain photosensitive equipment....n she looked at herself turning around both directions....specs...tied hair slightly falling out of the pony....casual tee shorts n sneakers.....nothing special at all she thought as she remembered sandra's look from the library...halter neck check hugging dress just above the knees with chic heels....trendy shades n matching handbag....shaking her head she moved back with the roll to the cutter....do i deserve him????when he could have someone like her????the captain n the lead cheerleader....was he sacrificing all that for her???


n she started cutting the new roll her thoughts elsewhere again, but her hands deft n skillful....then as felt the cutter not fall down smoothly she looked down at it...."what now???" she said as if talking to it....n lifting the blade a bit but not resting it completely she tried to jerk out the sheet which seemed to have been too thick somehow n was stuck....as she pulled it harder, the blade which wasnt resting stably fell down, n a bit too fast for her to react..."AAAAAHHHHHH" she screamed in pain....lifting it off her wrist n thumb where it had hit and she had to cover her mouth hard to avoid screaming in pain a second time as her eyes, widening in horror seeing the rapid flow of blood also started tearing with the acute pain....she was breathing shallow unable to contain the pain n the blood which was now dripping all around..narrowing her eyes in extreme effort to keep them open n bear the pain she looked at the cut...it was quite deep...she cursed mentally....remembering how they had specially ordered the sharpest possible cutter to ensure flawless smooth edges essential for their experiments...she was lucky her hand was not separated from her wrist, cause thats how efficient the cutter was....but this was damage enough she thought in horror as the blood flowed uncontrolled, n so did tears from her eyes blinding her as she looked around for something clean to tie her hand with finding a rough cloth she decided it would have to do for now....n then she screamed a second time as she tried to tie it over the severe wound "AAAAHHHH ammaaa" she cried breaking into sobs....her head getting a bit dizzy her breathing more shallow still......"RIDHIMA!!!!"....


**************


armaan was debating within al the way back....as he entered the house he saw rahul flipping through the sports channels as muskaan was setting the table n yeling at him "reg! if u dont help me right now um going to make sure u sleep without dinner tonight...." then seeing armaan she said "oh finally where's ridzi???um so sick of u guys....did u get us to move in together so we both would cook for u all the time....where is she armaan u know um terrible with cooking um just the helper in the kitchen she is the chef...." armaan still lost looked at her n mumbled "she will be staying at the lab tonight...." as he moved towards the stairs rahul asked "ammy all good???did u guys fight???" armaan turned around n said "no of course not...shes busy with work i think...anyways um not hungry but need to catch sme sleep....gona hit the bed.....sorry muski il help in the kitchen tomorrow for sure...good night u guys...." n h moved up the stairs without letting them answer as muskaan n rahul looked at each other with a questioning look...rahul said "must be tired....dont worry..." muskaan nodded n then turned hastily smelling something burning....


armaan paced his room....was she fine????she said it was the lab stuff...but...why does it feel....not quite....right....ridzi sweetheart...i hope ur ok....he picked up his cell then put it down again....what should i do....he sat sown on the bed his head in his hands, thinking about the whole 5minute talk.....at last lifting his head he spoke aloud "she was definitely lying to me....but why???she never hides anything from me.....what could be....is she angry with me????but she....i mean she wasnt cold with me neither mad at me....she was just...not herself....could she......oh god....help me....whats up with u ridzi????he paced the room again....n then his eyes fel on the poster he opened it and seeing her laugh he smiled....n closing his eyes he remembered his time with her....smiling grinning frowning as the memories flashed back n then he jerked open his eyes...."someone who is not just her closest friend but her unsaid reliable shield" he remembered shanshnk's words.....yeh she is definitely hiding something....just like dad said she does....he got up from the bed...she needs me...i dont know for what n why....but i just have to go see her....even if she doent want to talk...i know something isnt right....she will tell me in her good time...but i need to go see her.....n saying so he picked up his jacket n keys again n moved out shtting his door behind him...."now where are u going???i thought u were tired...." hearing rahuk's question he replied hastily without turning back...."something urgent came up....need to get it done....i might be out late....see ya at practice tomorrow morning reg...good night muski!"


he pulled at the taco bell driveway, the first he came across....um sure she hasnt eaten either, he thought as he ordered 4 que-se-dillas, a frappe, and a hot coffee....i havent eaten either, he thougt sipping onto his frappe.....and then turned the car out onto the road again....


pulling into the parklot closest to the Research Centre for engineering unit he jogged down the couple of blocks remaining.....as he entered the main door, his ID letting him access entry beyond building hours....but he rememebered that he would have to call her to get her to let him into the lab since he did not have the key to that....running to the elevator he fished out his cell simultaneously....as he stepped out of the elevator into the basement he realized there was no signal....dam he thought....why does she need to work in such a cut off from the civilization place....and he moved towards the lab....standing outside the door he knocked....n then he thought he heard a scream from inside....he was suddenly alert n as he knocked harder "ridzi????" he said n then realized the door was actually not completely shut....pushing it ajar he ran inside, not getting a positive feeling...and he knew why the moment he saw her on the floor "RIDHIMA!"


***************

~Part 31~


She opened her eyes then shut them again....too much light....now opening them slowly she looked around....where am i she thought and then an acute sensation shot from her hand all through her arm making her wince in pain...she drew in air sharply....n then she remembered her accident in the lab....was it a dream or had armaan come there....she shut her eyes trying to recall n also tying to bear the pain, when she heard his voice "RIDZI!!!!....thank god ur finally awake.....can u call the doctor please" opening her eyes she saw him say that to somebody she couldnt see n then he sat down beside her stroking her hair n gently placing a kiss on her forehead...."u silly girl....u really will kill me with a seizure someday.....what were u upto anyways???u have any idea how bad the injury was????u got 15 stitches on that hand of yours....n the blood loss???dont get me started...u collapsed with the weakness...." he rattled off in part relief, part reproach, but mostly concern.....


then as he paused ridhima said in a low n weak whisper "armaan...." he bent n placed a tender kiss on her lips n said his voice close to choking, "i was so scared sweetheart...." holding her normal hand in his hands he said kissing it "i thought....i mean it felt like...like i let it all happen n i just....wasnt there for u when...." ..."mr.benz..." armaan got up seeing the doctor approach still clutching her hand, his fingers now intertwined with hers....and she heard him say, in a suddenly much more composed sounding voice but she could sense the strain "she just came around doctor n so i sent for u...." ..."hello ms. gupta....that was a nasty injury....ur lucky to have been brought in by mr. benz in time....." n speaking he also made the regular pulse n bp checks...then he said "now tell me...can u lift the injured arm, very slowly...." as ridhima followed his instruction her face reflected the intense pain she went through, and armaan stroked her hair trying to calm her.....she gripped his hand interlocked with hers very hard........


n within seconds she said through gritted teeth with extreme effort "its...quite painful..." the doctor nodded "i would expect nothing less...whatever it was must have been not just sharp but heavy for it went almost an inch deep into ur hand....i have given the prescription...n its bed rest for a few days till u feel like u have regained ur energy, cause the blood loss was more than can be overlooked...n the hand...the least we can be thankful about is that its the left one...u need to give it complete rest for atleast a month....n then hopefully we can get the stiches off as soon as i see the wound drying....n weekly check up...i want to make sure there is no infection, although um surprised i didnt see any right away..." ridhima spoke up in a weak voice "the equipment is well sterlized, we cant afford even microscopic organisms on the sheets, it gives errors in the expermients..." armaan looked at her incredibly....then shook his head at her words sighing..gosh this girl...STILL TALKING PHYSICS???


while the doctor smiled "so we have a scientist here i guess...well miss gupta...i have signed off the required leave forms....u definitely need to take a break from any work for now....heavy loads or anything too stressful for the hand might take longer but u can head back to work once ur stiches are opened provided u take care...." as ridhima frowned, n was about to protest the doctor said "i would insist on the precautions, unless u want to come back to me with a relapse....n then it maybe well over half a years time as recovery period..." she kept quiet...then spoke in a low voice "when can i go back home???" the doctor gave a smile again, glad she had accepted his words "u can leave tomorrow morning...just a few hours of observation for my satisfaction...." then looking at armaan he said "would u be....." armaan interrupted "yes um staying back...i assume one person is allowed to stay on even in the emergency????i would like to if its not an issue...." the doctor nodded and smiling at them both left them alone....and armaan sat down his hand still interlocked with hers which he kissed again....and then sat quiet just caressing her cheeks...


she said looking at him..."um sorry armaan....i didnt..." ..."ssshhhh" he said putting his hand on her lips lightly..."no ridzi...um sorry..how could i let u go to the lab when it was apparent u were not quite ok....i should have realized....." he paused "i love u sweetheart, n for a moment when i saw u there with the blood all over....it was like...a nightmare....i just...." and feeling his voice break now, he paused again....n bent down to kiss her lips, only very tenderly n feeling a wet drop hit his cheek he looked into her eyes...which were brimming as he moved back to look at her she looked away and he wiped her tears.....then whispered low enough for it to be audible only to her "what happened princess...whats been disturbing u???" he squeezed her hand urging her to speak.....she looked at him a for a flickering second n then avoiding his gaze she mumbled feebly "its...i told u....the research n...." he turned her to face him n look back into his eyes.....n she knew there was no point lying....but what should she say????was there any point troubling him anymore with that senseless girls stuff n insecurity....no...she had put him through a lot for one night....


he meanwile could see the turmoil in her eyes and before she could say anything he spoke up "sweetheart....i will wait for u to tell me the real trouble....but first lets eat....i asked the doctor n ur can eat normal food...in fact he wants to u to eat more than usual...n um famished anyways...." saying so he opened packed dinner from the hospital cafe, since the previous bags had been forgotten in the lab, when he had seen her, he remembered nothing else.....now helping her to sit up, he started feeding her small bites as she was lost in thought....after a few minutes she said "i thought u were famished armaan....why dont u eat???" and saying so she steered his hand holding the sandwich towards his mouth with her right hand n made him eat too....then she spoke again "armaan will the doc really not let me work for a month????i have so much to do in the lab, n just when we were beginning to crack this issue which had been..."


..."RIDHIMAAAA!!!.." she stopped hearing his tone as he glared at her n continued "r u seriously insane???did u hear him???the cut was an inch deep....n uv got 15 stitches....u have any idea what condition u were in when i got u here????ur breathing was so shallow, n u got unconscious, n i just....." pausing from the close to yelling volume he said in a lower though still angry voice "no work....no lab....no library....if i hear anything of that from u for a month i swear um gona tie u to the bed n lock u inside ur room each day before i leave for the whole term....do i make myself clear????" she nodded meekly, almost scared by his sudden outburst...she just wanted to change the topic so he wouldnt ask her anything just yet....she didnt know what to say...he ran his hand through his hair, looking upwards for a few moments to recollect his composure then said looking back at her in deep concern...


"when i saw mum in the ICU...it was like....n today, i felt that same despair n helplessness.....i'v been into sports long enough to know how simple injuries can prove fatal...n u scared me so bad tonight....u have no clue what i went through the past couple of hours thinking of why i let u go to the lab....what if i had not reached in time....n had i really reached in time????.....n all ur thinking about is ur work????is that all that matters???" ridhima looked at him through the tears which filled her eyes again....then she lowered her eyes...she was only trying to evade the obvious question...in fact...that was the reason she had gone to the lab that night...was she escaping an issue at hand which had to be dealt with???she sighed....then looking back at him she said "um sorry....i did not mean it that way armaan....n....the cut was an absolute accident....n...ur right....it would....i mean if u had not come...." then she said in a puzzled voice "but what were u doing there???"


he replied in a matter of fact voice "i got us dinner....i knew u would skip it despite my instruction..." she smiled inevitably and said teasing "how do u think i managed before i met u sir???" he looked back at her trying in vain to hide his smile as he answered faking a stern voice "i bet u skipped half ur meals missy....but not anymore, coz i will be there forever to force three meals a day into u....ur seriously impossible to handle at times ridzi...." she moved forward to punch him but immediately fell back on the pillow as she winced in pain, the sudden movement jerking her injured hand....and armaan said immediately, concerned n scolding her "can u stay put for a while???i should so ask that doc to inject u with sedatives....." ridhima frowned at him "are u goint to keep yelling at me now for the month i have to spend in the bed????its going to be impossibly miserable without ur extended efforts...." and making a face she added "n dont freak out um going to hit the bed anyways before u find more reasons to boss around...." as she tried to move armaan quickly gripped her shoulders, and gently helped her lay down,


then giving her a guilty look he said in a much softer n exhausted tone "i dint mean to boss around ridzi.....um just....u never listen to me....go to sleep now....um going to sit next to u...if u need anything....please.....for my sake....ask me...." ridhima glanced at him...he had had such a long night....all her mistake....if only that sandra....no ridhima forget her...havnt even told armaan yet...i just dont....oh god um so confused....ok i need to sleep....n holding his hand she said "i will.....thanks a lot armaan...mum always says um a pain when i hit the bed....um gona try my best to not make it any harder for u than i can help....." smiling at her softly he said "dont worry um a hard nut to crack....i think i can safely handle ur tantrums!!!" he kissed her forehead and said "love u princess!!" and she smiled deeply looking back into his eyes.......


*************

she sat looking at nothing but her mind was a mess of thoughts again....she had been very quiet the past one hour, armaan noticed as he sat with his finance books, but his eyes were fixed on her.....perhaps the pain???but she had already been back home for over 4 days now....he stopped midway his thoughtful track as he saw her trying to get off the bed...putting his books aside hastily he rushed to her side "n what do u think ur upto missy???" he said sternly pushing her back onto the bed gently yet firmly....she replied in a low irate voice "i want to take a bath...." he looked up rolling his eyes, telling himself mentally to be patient as he sighed looking back at her stubborn expression....."well u dont have to get up for that....il call muski she will give u a sponge bath...." he saw her sulking as she said " i want to take a real bath...."

he looked at her with a tired expression....she had not been exaggerating about her tantrums...she would take the medicines but try her best to avoid the bitter energy tonics, unless he threatened to call PM; would not take rest as he told her tounless someone was on top of her head to monitor the same; wanted to go cook in the kitchen...imagine that!!cause no one except her could really cook amongst the 4 of them n she was tired of all the 'outside junk'...N NOW SHE WANTED TO TAKE A BATH??? as he faced her again trying to explain, he wasnt sure what the look on her face meant...it was not just that adamant rebelious look she would give him each time he would not let her have her way....she looked...sad???was that a glint of gloom in her usually chirpy and challenging eyes???despite the endless tantrums, he had to admit she had been quite strong given severity of the injury.....

here was the catch....not once did she complain about how hard it was on her....managing everything with one hand.....he knew she was in terrible pain each time she moved her hand even slightly cause her face would show it but when he asked her how it felt she would brave up a reassuring smile n say cheerfully "getting better...." she did not complain about how dull it was to spend hours alone in the house doing nothing when the three of them had to leave for their classes, though they tried their best to be with her, at least one at a time, for as much of the day as possible, and the night....and when they sat in her room busy with school work she didnt whine about how they were just there for the sake of it but not talking to her....she had been reading books, he was surprised to see how fast she was, for she had already finished 3 bestsellers....

but as he saw her now, he knew the book in her hand wasnt her focus at the moment....she had not turned a page in the last 20mins....he thought today had seemed more cheerful for her than the rest, as it was weekend n they were all home with her....n she had even had visitors....her lab mate andy...library co worker mike....couple of friends from her classes...and she had been hyperactive all day with so much company...then had come the big surprise....a bunch of his team n cheerleaders had shown up....sandra even got her a huge truffle cake....n armaan had been pleasantly surprised to see the way they had accepted her so completely as the lady in his life.....but now ever since they all left, she was quiet....perhaps the excitement of the day had taken its toll....but what was with this sudden bath demand now....it could be so hard to understand girls sometimes he thought.....

n tried again, more patient n in a softer tone "sweetheart the doc said u should avoid a bath for a bit....even a drop of water on the dressing can cause infection, n its absence so far has been the only saving factor....now u just sit back n relax...." she interrupted in a desperate voice "no armaan i am going to take a bath...il be careful i promise...." he got agitated now n said impatiently "ridhima??? honey why do u never listen to me????stop testing my patience now i got tons of homework i need to get back to.....n tell me what u want for dinner....reg n muski went out i told them to....but i will get exactly what u say so u dont fuss over that next...." ridhima got silent....then almost whispering she said her eyes lowered "um sorry i dont intend being so much trouble....but....please armaan....i really....i have to take a bath....i feel like....such a mess....n...."

she stopped looking away....and he found that very unusual....her tantrums so far had been just defensive, never give up till u get ur way kinds....but....turning her face to make her look at him gently...he was shocked to see tears....n he felt a stab of guilt....dam u armaan he thought kicking himself mentally....happy now r u???why did i have to be harsh with her....sorry honey....i just....u make it so hard for me sometimes....but....wiping her tears he pulled her into a hug taking care of not disturbing her hand n kissed her hair n whispered "um sorry princess....um such a jerk....please dont cry now....hush!!"

ridhima meanwile had a torment of emotions going on...she had been so relaxed the past few days....despite the obvious disruption in routine with this injury...she had just been happy having armaan around...she would put forth demands...sometimes when she really wanted something n at other times just to tease him....it was so cute to see him struggle for not getting mad at her!!!but he been such a darling....with each passing moment she her realization would deepen about how perfect he was for her....even when he was just sitting in a corner of the room burried in homework, n she was busy reading it felt great....his presence around was all that was needed n she would feel secure...no mention had been made by him about how the injury had occured, n she refrained from talking of that evning's encounter at the library with that....

infact past 4 days she had felt closer to him than ever before...until tonite....why did she come....she obviously hates me, n us together....n why all that pretense....shes trying to be an angel in his eyes....and i just....god help me....why do i feel so...insecure all of a sudden....armaan will never leave me....he doesnt love her n....she couldnt help remembering how gorgeous she looked in a light summer dress, with an elegant expensive fur overcoat, which had come off the moment she stepped inside....n although ridhima had not given it much of a thought in the past 4 days...her sudden fresh beauty had immediately made her feel conscious n shabby....any trace of confidence that had ever been in her had abandoned her totally....she just wanted to....she couldnt understand what she wanted...he was with her....what was the issue....what if he decided after a while that she was not the girl he could live his life with????what if he realized what he was missing by being with her ridhima???could she ever become trully his class????

she usually was the last person to feel such trivial insecurities...but this wasnt just about looks...it was about armaan...and she couldnt think of life without him anymore....what if....does he still love me the same way????even when i look like a mess, even when i throw all those tantrums...even when all um doing is being a liability on him....was he ashamed when his friends came in n saw her in such a sorry state....is all of this his love for me???or just pity???and realizing that he had been hugging her for a couple of minutes now, she pulled back with a sudden jerk, which caused another throbbing shot of pain in her wrist...and she broke into helpless sobs....feeling miserable, about being an unwanted responsibility, and perhaps not the girl he had expected she would be....armaan was now alarmed....he could just not understand what had come over her all of a sudden to lead to this outburst....something told him it had nothing to do with neither the physical pain nor his refusal to her sudden demand...

he looked at her in desperate helplessness....thinking of a possible way out....then taking a deep breath he firmly pulled her into a tight embrace....n held her like that allowing her to take it out whatever the reason, could be explored later when she was upto it....he continued stroking her hair not saying a word...he couldnt think of what to say to comfort her because he had no idea about what was causing her this misery....if only she would talk to him he thought desperately....but then he thought to himself...atleast she is crying it out....i will ensure she talks....about whatever it is she has been hiding from me since that evening she hurt herself....tired from crying n draining the remainder of her energy into endless mental debates she gradually fell asleep in his arms, the effect of the painkillers adding to her drowsiness....but he did not let her go....he was sure she was comforted knowing even subconsciously that he was there.....n he wasnt going to leave her at a time when he knew by instinct she needed him most.....

*************

it had been about two hours he realized as he opened his eyes, feeling her move in his arms....he too had dozed off with her curled up in his arms as he rest against the back of the bed....he looked at her n saw her frowning, her face tear stricken, it wrenched his heart....he wished more than anything else to know what had caused it.....i have to make her talk he decided with grim determination....show me a way god he prayed in his mind sighing, n she stirred again....he whispered in her ear "ridzi sweetheart u wana wake up???" she frowned and he repeated "honey u should wake up...even if just for a bit...." and feeling him shake her gently she opened her eyes reluctantly and slowly n muttered "when did i...." n then she remembered how she had broken down n fallen asleep....she lowered her eyes and whispered "thanks armaan...um a bad girl...i try to not be unbearable but...i just...." he silenced her giving her a tender but intensely passionate kiss on her lips then pulling away he said

"dont be silly....ur my brave princess...i never saw any girl face such a severe injury without making it bigger than the impending danger of world war three...." as he saw her give a faint smile he made her look at him and said "where did my wild disobedient baby pick up this crying act???i have a quick tip....i can hardly ever stand up against the demands from the phenomenal lady i love...understand???didnt i tell u how hopelessly um smitten by ur deceptive angelic smile...tears dont suit u at all...id say i prefer even ur frown over them....so i think u would get ur way easier if u fought it out with me like always...." he relaxed seeing her smile now...as she nodded...and he continued, stroking her hair, his arm around her shoulder....

"i will call the doc first thing tomorrow morning n tell him there's a life threat on me if i dont let u have ur way so can u please take a bath???happy???" she giggled and said "life threat???i didnt even blackmail u this time...in i wasnt even rebellious..." he looked into her eyes and said "none of that is worse than seeing u cry..." n seeing her get solemn, in a naughty voice he added "what books are u reading???i think u gaining tips in to the psychology of faint hearted men like me....bet u read somewhere how a woman's tears can melt even the stone hearted....." she made a face at him and retorted "yeh right..." he grinned and said..."ok enough talking....u should eat something n then u can go back to sleep if u want to...." she said "can u please get me some apple juice for now???il eat in a bit i promise..." he nodded n went out to get it for her......

handing her the juice he made a move to go get his books, halfheartedly not quite feeling upto finance figures for the night....presently ridhima spoke up...."armaan...i know i wasted alot of ur time but...r u free for a bit???" he moved back to her relieved, and almost delighted she asked him that, he wasnt quite going to be concentrating on the assignment anyways....sitting down on the carpet beside her bed he held onto her normal hand and said "all urs my lady...." in a solemn tone with a curious look as he saw her face.....n she spoke not looking at him but straight ahead "why do u love me????" he shot her a shocked look except that she didnt face him to see it....what kind of a question was that???? was she trying to tease him????but as he saw her expression something told him she was dead serious...n so after a few more moments had elapsed he said "i have no clue what makes u ask that.....but to answer your question, i dont remember thinking of the reasons for which i should fall in love with u sweetheart....there wasnt any pre planning involved...." she looked at him now without speaking waiting for him to continue....but he seemed to have said what he had to, so she spoke again....."i think i didnt ask it the right way armaan....i did not mean what did u think of when u decided to fall in love, falling in love can just be a momentary attraction without much thought attached to it...." she paused n he frowned not liking her choice of words..."what i am asking is that now u have known me for a while....much more than the way u knew me when we got together at least....do u still love me the same way????dont u ever feel like....like u could....i mean....any girl u ever could chose would gladly come to u so why......"

....."i couldnt disagree on that, or there was no way i could get the best girl in the world....." he interrupted but as he paused ridhima said with a sigh "but um not the best girl in the world armaan...n i never could be.....n i dont understand why u would still chose me over the many much better girls who could be in ur life...." .....he took the untouched juice glass from her hands n put it aside and then sat down beside her.....something was seriously not right he knew....n it was about time for him to find out what....."tell me something ridhima....am i the best guy u could have ever got" she nodded vigourously n then stopped immediately wincing, as it jerked her hand a bit.....armaan for then didnt tell her off for it and continued "n why do u think that way????" she started immediately "well u are the best, no girl could disagree with that....a basketball stud, a rockstar, a lord....."

she stopped frowning, and armaan did not interrupt her chain of thoughts....just observed her....and she spoke again in a confused voice"no no no....i mean...no thats not what i had to say....wait....i mean yeh ur all that....but.....these things had in fact been....reason for me to not take u seriously in the beginning...cause i thought u would just be...u know the typical....celelbrity guy....not caring much for the people in their life n......"she paused....n he was still quiet waiting for her to resume..."no...ur popularity has nothing to do with my...love for u....its more like the way u are....its like...u just have to be yourself, never have to do a thing except being around n i feel like um pampered....n spoilt....n special....."

her tone went lower as if she was now talking to herself but he did not miss a word of it..."when u say princess i feel like one for real.....everytime u say u love me, it sounds like....the moment just got complete....u do things when i least expect them, n yet they are exactly what i could want....like i could never do them any better if i did them for myself....its like....u never needed time to reach out to that part inside me, which has been latent even to myself....its...." she looked into his eyes which were rapt in attention to each word of hers....his smile wide.....and before she spoke he completed "exactly why ur the best girl for me...." as she her expression turned puzzled he continued looking into her eyes through each passing word

"u know ridzi....i have dated enough girls in my life to have lost count of them by now....but ur the only girl who said all that about me....um not implying i dont enjoy the stardom, the attention, the centrestage....i kill myself with work to earn it all...n so the credits are well received....my fans mean alot.....but they are just that...my priceless returns to the efforts i put in....its a mutual thing...all they know about me is the star armaan facet n so thats all they admire me for....every once in a while iv dated girls who were fairly attractive....but all they ever care about is who i am to the world...." he sighed then remembering something he chuckled "remember the time i came to return some papers of urs???n u thought i was stalking u???" as he laughed she couldnt avoid a sheepish smile and he continued

"i should have known right away, ur the only one i ever would wana stalk!!!" then s,iling in a daze he said " n when i recognized u at the airport....i dont know why but i felt a sudden happiness...i mean i dint even know u in high school....beyond the newton's laws i mean" he said grinning "but it felt like i met long lost friend....n it was so easy to be with u....to talk to u...to be myself....u dint flutter like all the girls n i guess that what kept me normnal.....it might be weird to most people, but its such a welcome change to be treated like a normal someone....i was sent here for my education as a kid so i wouldnt grow up all arrogant knowing the eminence of being a benz........when i came here i thought it wasnt so bad to be a star after all...high school for me was such a side issue....until....well u know after mum it all changed....i just...realized how lonely i was....how everybody i ever knew was just cause of my image....how there wasnt anyone except reg, amongst friends who could understand even if i told them what i had gone through in those months.....n i realized being a star was great....but u never made real friends that way....n i gave up on the idea of ever getting to be close to anyone for real, except dad n reg....i decided i could survive with the two of them n needed no one else....but u just....were so different....i didnt even realize how much i was interacting with u without anyb effort...n howe when u were not there i couldnt not think of what if u were there then....it just...seemed to fall into place....it wasnt as u call an unthoughtful attraction....it was a relation meant to be....everything about it was right....." then looking at her he saw the depth in her eyes n cupping her face he said resting his forehead against hers "everything about it IS perfect i mean.....u say ur not the best???alright lets have it ur way then...u may not be the best n neither am i...but we are best together n thats all that matters to me...."...

**************

~Part 32~


muski shrugged giving him a resigning look...."i dont think we will convince her armaan....shes adament.....n well its been over two weeks it does get so boring n she never complains about that atleast....cant we go with her plan for this surprise party???reg is bound to love it.....n it will be a change for ridzi....why are u so strict with her anyways....we both are here to take make sure there isnt any trouble right????" armaan sighed then looking at her he said "muski stop siding up with her shes a handful without ur support....n um not being strict....well ok maybe i am....but she doesnt leave me an alternate....its hard to make her listen to me....anyways i will go get her but she doesnt touch a thing only sits in a corner to instruct us...." saying so he went to ridhima's room....


armaan, he thought...dude u never going to have ur way with this girl just accept it....seeing her pouting her lips he said with a sigh "alright fine....i give up...." grinning victoriously she pulled him lower n gave him a quick peck on his lips, then put her arms out to be carried....he put her arms back gentle with the injured one, and lifted her off the bed in an easy sweep....n she said in glee "love u honey...thanks!!" giving him another quick peck on his nose she added "u know i can walk, its the hand i hurt not my feet but....i love it when u pamper me..." they both broke into a laugh...that was the best thing about her he thought....she would be so frank in almost a naive way, when she said things like that....a complete natural....any other girl would have made thousand excuses to be carried by her guy....but she would just state facts.....seeing the evident happiness in her eyes, he couldnt help smiling as he shook his head at her.....


"dont give me that cheeky smile now....god alone knows why i always let u talk me into stuff....u know um going to spoil our kids as much as i can....just to get back at u...i will ensure they are incorrigible brats for u to manage...." she made a face at him , n pulling his ear, still in his arms, retorted..."no way....my kids will be angels....n i wont let u within 12 feet of them if u even consider spoiling them...." he gave her a confident smile...and whispered as they were getting off the last few steps "well i know we will have a bunch of little beauties....n no girl can resist the charms of junior benz....u just wont be able to keep them away...."...she hissed back "then i will have no baby girl at all...i prefer baby boys anyways...." armaan stopped walking, gave her a nasty look n replied "absolutely not...i want daughters n thats it....final..." she glared at him n retorted keeping her tone low since they were quite close to the kitchen "WHAT???if um the one bearing all that pain, i get to chose what baby we have...plaster that fact in ur head...???"


he sighed looking at her incredulously.....yeh there really was no way he could ever have his way he guessed...even though the gender deciding genes come from the male....in their case perhaps god too would have to make an exception....having reached the kitchen he made her sit on a side shelf careful with her hand....and muski said...."so what do u want us to do???" she replied concentrating on what she was here for now "well i thought we could do mexican for the main course since it his favorite...que-se-dilas, tacos n enchiladas...all three of 3 kinds-beans, chicken and turkey...n salads n soup of course" she said looking at muski who nodded, then she thought for a moment and continued looking at armaan now "i still havent thought of the desert though....since you are the sweet freak...any suggestions???"


before he could answer ridhima turned back to muskaan "muski i think we are out off the shells, and also the all purpose flour....can u check???its the rightmost drawer on that side" she said pointing and muskaan following her direction took out packets which were indeed almost empty....she looked at ridhima in awe and said "u havent been in here in over 2 weeks missy n u still know what we have n what we dont????gosh ridzy....how did u????" ridhima gave her an impatient look and replied "muskiii!!! whats so hard about that....i havent been in the kitchen n u guys havent made a cup of coffee in here yet....so i know everything is as it was when i left it right???now stop wasting time they are coming in a few hours i know but if we go at this pace we can only get done for his birthday next year....u called all of the team n the whole bunch of cheerleaders right???" she asked looking at armaan, he nodded....


n she said "ok can u get us 15 packets of shells....n a bag of 5 pound flour please...like right away???" armaan nodded saying "sure...is that all???" ridhima shut her eyes momentarily counting off things in her head n said opening her eyes "yeh we're good...actually can u get 3 buckets of vanilla icecream???" ..."vanilla???" he asked curious..."yeh vanilla just get it n il explain later....this new thing i saw in some magazine it looks great...." he nodded turning to muskaan he said "she doesnt touch a thing remember...." n turning back to an indignant ridhima he grinned bending to give her a quick peck on her cheek, then picked up his keys moved out....ridhima now turned to muskaan....


"guess we cant do much without the flour....oh but u can get the chicken out...n the turkey...we need to make the shred for filling....n there is some feta n mozrella in the freezer....that n the canned beans in the pantry....and...get the lettuce, tomatoes, onions n sour apples out oh n the salted Lays pack...i think we can do the caeser salad...o n theirs egg nog in the....." she stopped seeing muskaan's glare..."what???" ridhima asked to which muskaan responded with a sugary smile and a mock servile bow n said "madam i know ur in courtship with a lord...but you are not quite lady benz YET, n i am certainly not a trained cook in the service of ur highness...if u would be kind enough to go slower on the instructions, i could perhaps follow them for real instead of just hearing u rattle off...." she said the last words looking up at her again with a glare and ridhima laughed in a sheepish way "muski!!! cut it out....ok sorry i didnt realize i was that fast....lets start with the chicken n turkey..."


************

they had been mostly silent for the past 20 minutes....as ridhima gave occasional instructions, n muskaan followed them, but they didnt talk much else....muskaan glanced at ridhima for the nth time....n knew she was still thinking....ridhima indeed was deep in thought....ever since that talk with armaan last weekend she had gotten into a new mode....she had decided to skip the sandra conversation with him....his words had opened her eyes to light in a whole new way, n for once she had realized how baseless her doubts had been, n how she was misunderstanding the love of the man in her life....n so she made this silent determination of handling things her way....so he would never have to severe his past connections n she would fit in them perfectly as well...if a change of attitude was needed she would do it for him, hadnt she done it years ago???


n after a whole night of thinking she had known exactly how n what was to be done....armaan of course had asked her the reason for her sudden question n outburst the next day when she had appeared to him much more relaxed n cheerful, n she had pinned it down to feeling low cause of the injury n being stuck with nothing to do....she knew he wasnt sure if that was all....but over the week she had been chirpy n full of life, not just for show, she trully felt cheerful, his words had given her all the reasons for it...n so he had accepted her reason n was satisfied that she was fine, n recovering fast....the tantrums n arguments persisted but they were perhaps a part of their relation to stay!!!these past weeks had brought them closer like never before n they both felt they had learnt a lot more about each other.....


when muskaan had mentioned rahul's birthday this weekend ridhima decided it was time for action....n so she insisted on throwing a surprise party for him at their place....there was initial resistance armaan felt that if her hand was indeed on the path to recovery they didnt have to invite situations for trouble n could have a bash outside at some club where she would just enjoy n relax....but she insisted....n wouldnt even agree to ordering food from outside....muskaan was partially inclined towards ridhima n so it all worked out....."um done"...muskaan interrupted her chain of thoughts...


"huh??? oh alright...can i see it???" as muskaan shoved the bowl closer for inspection she said "ridzy....will u not evade my question for once???" ridhima looked up into her eyes....she knew muskaan had been hurt when ridhima had made up a cock n bull story about her cut being a total accident...they had been together so many years n muskaan knew 2 places where ridhima never made a mistake...the lab n the kitchen....but everytime she asked it was the same reply n tendency to change the topic....so after discussing with aryan she had now for a week given it a break....she had not asked armaan since he had been worried like crazy about ridhima without muskaan adding to the issues....


seeing ridhima lost in her thoughts now she couldnt resist herself at this moment....ridhima lowered her eyes n said "muski....how many times do u want to hear the same answer???" muskaan replied in a low intended tone "well i dont want the same answer ridzy...i want the real answer....what is it that u cant even share with me???" ridhima looked at muskaan, her eyes revealing the guilt n muskaan continued "if it was me not telling u, i had have faced that cold treatment from u right then....but i gave u time....u have to tell me what is wrong......" ridhima intrrupted "what WAS wrong u mean...all is fine now...." she sighed...she knew muskaan had a right to know....but she didnt ever wana bring up this thing again....


"muski...lets leave the details....i was just misunderstanding the love between armaan n me...n getting insecure....but i was wrong n iv realized that....he was, is n will always be with me....." muskaan looked intently at ridhima's faraway look....in that single line of description she knew whatever it had been the worst was past... n it was something, like those very few somethings in her friends life, which would now remain buried as if it had never been....in fact muskaan thought, if um not wrong armaan perhaps doesnt even know much here ....taking ridhima's healthy hand she squeezed it n said..."il take ur word this time...but ridzi, u dont always have to handle the hardest alone....if anything looks out of control u dont have to cut ur hand next time, ask for help" she said in the earnest ridhima smiled back glad muskaan had not pushed it n understood her anyways....then said "lettuce tomatoes onions chips n sour apples next....armaan better be coming with the stuff soon...".....


************

"sweetheart do u need......" he stopped mid sentence staring at her reflection in the mirror...."wow!!!..." he gasped awe struck....forgetting his initial words, as she turned around to face him.....in a broken white, floral printed in self, halter neck knee length flowing summer dress , putting kohl in her eyes her hair damp n still not done....she gave him a disappointed look n said "armaaan! u just walked in on my surprise for u, um not even ready yet...." he moved towards her, n she looked at him curiously, as he took the hairbrush from her hand n put it aside....


then gently he ran his fingers through her hair smelling fresh from the shower, random drops of water falling from them onto her bare shoulders n back....smiling deeply he said "u look...beautiful..." she smiled back at him blushing slightly n said "thanks!..." then after a pause "muskaan said she was just coming to help me with...." he interrupted "yeh she sent me to check if u need something...." ridhima raised her eyebrows n said grinning "i do actually, but i doubt ul be much help..." as he frowned slightly she explained "i need help fixing my hair honey, u havent quite proved ur credentials well in that skill!!" as she broke out laughing, he just felt captivated....


she seemed so refreshed n cheerful tonite, n looked more gorgeous than ever before, without having done a thing yet.....he was glad he let her have the party her way....to see her laugh for real.....she had regained that sparkle which was so typical of her when she was busy with something she loved doing....pulling her close he whispered "u dont need to fix a thing gorgeous....its all perfect...." she stopped laughing now, a conscious smile overtaking, she closed her eyes feeling his lips on hers, n kissed him back....as he stood close even after they let go, she could feel her senses giddy from his cologne again, n rest her head against his chest....he whispered kissing her hair in a serious voice "iv had enough now...."


she looked up at him n he said with a twinkle in his eye "i wana get married right away..." she sighed with relief...then said pounding his chest lightly "yeh right...n who's the poor girl???" he gaped at her his eyes wide n mouth open "poor girl???oh puhleeez....u should be asking me why am i willing to be a scapegoat after two weeks of seeing the brat u are...." she made a face at him trying to pull herself out of his grip n saying "oh yeh....so why are u willing to be a scapegoat sir benz???" she said sarcastically giving up the struggle as his grip only tightened....


she glared at him and he made a teasing face then laughed out seeing her getting furious "cause u are worth it...." he answered simply....she looked at him now, as he still grinned at her but talking volumes with his intense gaze boring right through her....she hugged him tight, n not knowing what else there was to say she just whispered "i love u armaan" into his chest....the combination of her damp hair and warm breath against his skin made him look back at her cuddling in....with a deep intake of air he shut his eyes trying to clear out the strong uncontrollable sensation that was taking over him completely, but not to much avail....


n moving her hair gently he buried his head in the cape of her neck, inhaling the intoxicating mix from the fresh shower, and the light jasmine fragrance she had used....kissing her sensuously, having lost any sense to check himself he whispered onto her skin "ridhimaaa...." she too was totally engulfed by the moment, by his proximity, by his action.....and was about to respond when they were both startled by repetition of her name much louder this time "RIDHIMAAA"


they broke apart almost in a jerk n heard muskaan's next words as her booming voice neared the room "do u think that cake would be done n i should get it out???" she finished now standing at the door of her room....seeing at the two of them as they appeared visibly flustered muskaan felt guilty of perhaps having interrupted a moment, but was having a hard time trying to check her smile from having caught them as she did not want them to get conscious....armaan found his voice first..."i uh....need to make a call...check on the gang n all....excuse me ladies..." and he walked out of the room hastily neither looking back at ridhima, nor meeting muskaan's eye....


muskaan turned around to face her friend with a cheesy smile plastered across her face....."what do u wana do next???" ridhima looked up at muskaan shocked n blushing hard at the question...why the hell could she never control herself with armaan....n all that feeling moments ago....had armaan too...????n did muskaan see them...she must have...but couldnt she keep that knowledge to herself, but no...muski was asking her what move she wanted to make next....MUSKIIII??? rdihima screamed in her head.....oh dam!if she mentions this to aryan um sooo gone n.... omg....how embarassing could this get....


aloud she said "huh???" muskaan grinned "with the cake of course!" she said winking....after a couple of still moments ridhima picked up a cushion from her bed n chucked it at muskaan who said "WHAT!!what did u think i was asking" and ran out of the room as ridhima followed her fast with another cushion, yelling "come back u idiot....who's gona do my hair???" n muskaan yelled back "so thats what u both were doing???fixing ur hair???"


and ridhima threw the second cushion at her running up the stairs, with a pretty bad aim as it hit armaan who had walked out of his room hearing the racket.....catching the cushion he stared at ridhima, but within a couple of seconds he looked at muskaan and said "muski???whats happening???i cant handle another injury of her please....stop it now both of u...n...yeh...uh...yeh...get the food ready soon...its 30 mins to midnight reg n the gang will be here soon...." as muski was about to retort he added "by the way....i hope reg will survive tonight....red is definitely ur color....u look great..." n he gave her a light hug....muskaan hugged him back blushing....while ridhima smiled at the two of them hoping to catch armaans attention, but he couldnt bring himself to meet the eyes he knew were on him.....


************

with awful difficulty rahul unlocked the door, the whole lot of them somewhat high, had talked him into gatecrashing into the apartment....he was quite upset about it...as muski had told him to be back home in time for midnight...she had assured him armaan n ridhima would be out of the way, an she wanted to celebrate his first birthday since their commitment alone, just him n her....but now they had all insisted on coming with him....he cursed armaan, who he knew was the only one who could have stopped them n convinced them out of this....


but armaan had not been able to come at this pre birthday evening bash which was tradition with the team, cause of ridhima's check up....it had been a clash n rahul couldnt quite oppose something like this it was a genuine reason....n then muskaan had asked him to let them go, saying that she had arranged for the two of them to be out for a dinner n post that late night out as ridzy had not quite gone out in a wile, n this way they could spend time, n she n him would get solitude and then 4 of them could celebrate together all through the next day....


it would all have been perfect n he had been so looking forward to a romantic evening, but for this gang of crazy basket ballers n their cheering girls....not only had they delayed him infinitely...well by 2 minutes to be precise, but when ha had insisted on leaving on the pretext of having some prior commitment with armaan since he couldnt join in, they announced they were tagging along....he cursed again as he opened the door to see a table set with a cake n candles n decor in the centre of a darkened room...muski is going to kill me tonight on my birthday itself he thought in complete self pity....ur a dead man dude...how u gona explain this rowdy gang on ur back, when she had made such beautiful arrangements for the two of us n....


"SURPRISE!!!"..as his first reaction to the outburst n the sudden flooding lights he shut his eyes....had she hit him on the head, hence the bright blinding spark....then the word he had heard registered in his head, n he slowly opened his eyes to see the three of them, n the whole gang behind them....as they clapped hard and started singing for him, muskaan moved forwards towards him....he felt dizzy...if the surprise had left any undrained energy in him, it was sapped away when he saw her approaching him...that red gown....n her soft curls, beautiful smile, and the lips, he thought as she kissed him on his cheek, and a loud cheer erupted from the crowd he heard her whisper happy birthday darling!!"


and then she hugged him....he was a dead man indeed, only for different reasons...and he hugged her back breaking into a wide smile his eyes shut....then muskaan pulled away...oh no dont he thought, but she pulled him towards the table laid out with the cake n they both cut it together , which was a great idea since he couldnt quite focus on the cake or the knife, with her by his side as she fed him the delicious apple cinnamon cake with vanilla custard icing.... he gave her a quick peck, n then licking his fingers was going to turn around when he felt the life crushed out of him as armaan pulled him into a hug and patting him on the back, more like beating him said grinning....


"u thought i was gona let a monster like u be alone with that angel????not quite until ur tame enough to be handled!!!" then breaking away he said grinning at rahul's indignant breathless look..."happy birthday mate....what do ya think of the surprise??" rahul broke into an easy smile now, n pushing him out of the way he went and hugged ridhima...."thanks for the lovely cake...." breaking away as ridhima was gona reply he added winking at muskaan "think u could teach her a trick or two???" muskaan glared at him as ridhima said grinning sheepishly


"happy birthday reg...but actually...uh...muski baked the cake...n infact....its all her show tonight the food, decor, n the bash!!" he turned around to face muskaan with a guilty pleading look as armaan slid his arm over her shoulder n said "hey beautiful, think its time to dump this moron n give me a chance???" while rahul moved pushing him away and pulling her close to him said, "stay off..." then pointing to ridhima he added "thats where u should be..." ridhima blushed waiting for armaan's reaction n was almost disappointed as he smiled nodding and just came n stood by her without meeting her eye...


whats wrong with him she thought...as she interlocked her fingers with his holding his hand he gave a quick acknowledging smile but she felt him slightly stiffen.....n then they heard a sugar coated voice...."time we let the party begin...what say people??" and ridhima saw sandra appear from the group, looking eye catching as ever...ridhima gave her a sweet smile and said to all in general..."absolutely....lets get the party going....thanks....sandra" emphasizing the name SANDRA while shooting her another sweet smile, then letting go of armaan's hand she moved to the kitchen while muski helped the gang with the cake n they all got comfortable.....


armaan turned the music on, and then moved to follow ridhima into the kitchen, a bit hesitant....he was feeling guilty about those moments earlier....why had he let it all overcome him....he knew how much trust PM n pa had placed in him, saying an immediate yes to his idea of this apartment...n he remembered how chris, delighted though he was had advised armaan to never let them regret it....why then had he....fallen for that weak moment....what if muskaan had not....infact they were alone in the house so many times....he couldnt rely on rahul n muskaan to be around all the time....it had to be his own restrain....but she had just looked so....she made him so vulnerable....n...oh dam...how will i face her.....more than anyone else, i care about the trust SHE places in me....shes so innocent she probably didnt even realise where all of that was headed, what i was gona do, he thought bitterly....running his hand through his hair breathing deeply he entered the kitchen.....


************


part 32 folks....awfully delayed but with a genuine reason....packing n moving can so so tragic i just figured over the past 72 hours....gosh it was an unbelievable pain....n ive done this update in so many interrupted shifts....i just couldnt delay any more to work on polishing it off...but its a cheerful part so hopefully ul overlook any incoherent kinks lolzzz!!! missed being here even for the short time which seemed too long....waiting for all ur comments as always!!!

might skip PM's for now...gota unpack now....god this is insane...first i spent ages packing, only to open it all up in less than 24 hours....



Edited by spln - 30 June 2008 at 1:04pm

The following 11 member(s) liked the above post:

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rockeraryan

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rockeraryan

Joined: 17 December 2007

Posts: 583

Posted: 05 June 2008 at 2:27pm | IP Logged
congrts fr 2nd thread

jhanvimooni

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jhanvimooni

Joined: 26 October 2006

Posts: 64

Posted: 05 June 2008 at 2:33pm | IP Logged
Congratulations for the 2nd thread..mindblowing parts
update soon...
cheers

spln

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spln

Joined: 06 December 2007

Posts: 11036

Posted: 05 June 2008 at 2:33pm | IP Logged
Originally posted by rockeraryan

congrts fr 2nd thread



thnx dude!!!

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