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Chapter 3: The Boy Next Door
Gasping softly, she fell against the wall, her arms spreading out to steady her suddenly clumsy body.
He followed her closely, keeping only inches between their bodies. It was as if he was a lion, stalking his prey, and she felt hunted. His hand came out to rest over her head, palm flat against the wall.
She breathed deeply to calm herself, when he crowded her even more with his proximity. As he stepped even closer, she gasped, her eyes moving compulsively over his features. She was mesmerized by the manly beauty in front of her. She admitted it. She had been captivated from the first moment she had touched him. Before seeing him . . . his scent . .. his warmth . . . his hold had left its mark on her.
He reached out with a finger and gently closed her open mouth. Continuing the movement, he tilted her chin up, so that her lips moved dangerously closer to his. Leaning in, decreasing that distance by heart pounding proportions, he breathed against her lips, "My name is Aahil. Happy?"
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Sanam blinked awake, sitting up in bed. Her heart was pounding, and she had to take deep breaths to calm herself. Why had she dreamed about him? And then to add that name to that face? What was her mind thinking?! She shook her head, trying to shake loose those thoughts. She'd already spent too much time thinking about the man.
Wiping the sleep from her eyes, she forced herself to get up. She yawned, reaching her arms above her head for a full-body stretch. She was usually a morning person, but the late night and the countless dreams about Mr. Rehan Imran Qureshi had made it hard to get a good night's sleep. For a moment, she wanted nothing more than to get back into bed. She sighed. Even though she didn't have to be anywhere today, she knew she wouldn't be able to go back to sleep.
She moved towards the bathroom she shared with Seher, entering it and turning on the light. As she brushed her teeth and washed her face, her eyes were caught by her appearance in the mirror. She stared at the bags under her eyes, wincing at how red her eyes were. She poked at her puffy cheeks, the unfortunate result of not getting enough sleep. It was a good thing that she wasn't going anywhere today she silently thought to herself. In fact, she was off now for the next week, having been promised the time off after the fundraiser.
her hair back into a bun, she went back into her room and opened the curtains.
Sunlight quickly streamed in, bringing light into every corner of the room.
There was a murmur from the bed, and Sanam turned to stare at the figure on the
bed before turning back to open the window. Closing her eyes, she breathed in
the cool morning air for a moment, reveling in the quiet of the morning. Okay.
Enough air. Turning around, she went across to one of the inner windows and
looked out at the dining room below. Smiling in satisfaction, she went back to
the bed and yanked on the blanket. "Seher?
"Hmm?" Seher murmured sleepily from under the covers.
"Get up," she ordered, nudging at the sleeping figure with a knee.
Seher's only response was to move across the queen-sized bed to get out of Sanam's reach. Once she was at some distance from Sanam's knee, she quickly burrowed her head under another pillow
"Arre!" Sanam walked around the bed and got in on the other side, nudging at her sister with her knee once more.
"What the heck, Sanam?" Seher growled grumpily. "Just because you like to get up at dawn, doesn't mean everyone else does. Keep your bony knee away from me if you want to protect it!"
"If you wanted to sleep late, you should've slept in your own room," Sanam retorted, getting off the bed and starting to straighten out the blanket around her sister. "Your bedroom is just next door. Three steps if you go through the bathroom, you lazy bum! Now, get up!"
There was no answer but for a light snore.
"Look, I peeked downstairs. Badi Ammi, mom and dad are at breakfast right now and expecting us to join them. And Haya even said that she would be coming over to spend the day, don't you remember? She called at midnight last night to let us know they were back, and that she would still be here bright and early. She's down there, too. You don't want her to feel unwelcome, do you?"
"Just because she came back from a nice, relaxing vacation with her hubby, doesn't mean that everyone has had a nice and relaxing week," Seher shot back in a muffled tone, her head still buried under the pillow. "Some of us have had really busy weeks. Besides she's family and will be fine with me sleeping late. Now, go away!"
Sanam shook her head at Seher in exasperation. The family had gotten home at 11 last night, after Sanam had finished helping out with the clean up at the event. And it wasn't like they had slept immediately afterwards. Walking across to the wardrobe for clothes, she allowed herself a secret smile as her mind turned to the secrets they had shared last night.
"He was so sweet," Seher murmured happily, lying next to Sanam on her bed. "After I helped Suman calculate the numbers, I was heading towards the bathroom and tripped over dishes some idiot had left on the floor. And the Nawab caught me in his strong arms instead." She sighed happily. "You know all those girls were clamoring for his attention . . . for a first dance . . . for his number, but he danced with me. He asked for my number."
"Really?" Sanam asked skeptically. "I thought he looked the shy type. I can't imagine him asking for your number."
"Well, okay," Seher admitted impishly. "I borrowed his phone and dialed my number," she revealed, making air quotes around borrowed. "He was too much of a gentleman to say anything, but I don't think he minded. He stayed with me until they made him go up on the stage for the speech at the end." She paused for a while, before continuing, "I did a little bit of research on the net on our way home. I couldn't find out much about the man, but I did find out that the Ibrahims have a lot of property, here in Bhopal and all over India. Apparently the Nawab has some business having to do with construction and they also buy up other businesses and bring them into the black, I think." Seher shrugged. "All I know is they buy land and get to travel. We had more important things to talk about than his business," Seher continued. "But he did say he recently returned from overseas to take charge of everything because his grandmother passed away."
"Did he say anything else?" Sanam asked. Had Rehan come back with him? Had he been overseas, as well?
"What do you mean? His favorite food or whether he likes long walks on the beach?" Seher asked in confusion. "That would matter to me since I'd have to take those long walks with him, but why do you care?"
"No, I mean," Sanam began, "About the people around him?"
"Hmm, not particularly. He did mention that he had a right hand man who came back with him. Rahim . . .Rehan or something. Apparently, he's an attorney like you, but in business law. He's in-house, and helps the Nawab with pretty much everything. The Nawab said he was the one actually in charge."
Sanam smiled quietly at that wealth of information.
"When he came in and was telling the Nawab to go up to the stage, it was just too much. He was almost ordering him around." Seher's tone was disapproving.
Sanam blinked at that, but realized it would fit what she had felt around the man. He was the take-charge kind of guy. "I thought so, too," she murmured sleepily.
"What? You met him?" Seher yelped, turning to stare at her sister in the dark. "Wait. Who did you meet?"
"Rehan," Sanam admitted. "Outside the ballroom. It was the first time, Seher."
"What?" Seher asked, turning over on the bed, so she could look at her sister closely in the dark.
"The first time my heart felt something."
"Good morning everyone," Sanam called out, bounding to the head of the dining room table to greet her Badi Ammi with a kiss.
"Good morning, beta," Badi Ammi answered with a smile, returning the kiss with one of her own to her granddaughter's cheek. "I heard the event went well last night."
"It did," Sanam answered. "We really missed you there," she said, reaching down to hug her grandmother exuberantly. "You missed my first big event."
"I know, I'm sorry, Sanam," Dilshad replied. "I've said that many times, haven't I? But once you say yes to someone else, you can't go back on it. Not even for my beloved granddaughter."
"You know that she's just playing with you, Badi Ammi," Haya said from across the table.
Squealing with happiness, Sanam ran around the table to hug her cousin, "Haya! You're here! How was the trip?"
"We had loads of fun," Haya replied, returning the hug. "Rahat wanted to camp out, so we had the whole tent and campfire experience."
"Poor you," Sanam said teasingly to Haya, coming around the table to sit beside her dad and pouring herself a cup of chai. She nodded a quick thanks to her dad when he placed buttered toast in front of her.
"It wasn't too bad," Haya protested. "I enjoyed most of it."
"I don't know how you do it, Haya," Zoya murmured. The other woman was sitting across the table, next to Haya. Reaching out a hand, she ruffled her niece's hair. "I've been camping with your uncle, and it's never pleasant."
"And you're not too pleasant to be around, either, Ms Farooqui," Asad murmured acerbically.
"Mom, really?" Sanam yelped, standing up and reaching across the table to pull away her mother's plate. "How can you be eating pizza for breakfast? It's not healthy! You're addicted! Dad, Badi Ammi, why won't you say anything?" she demanded in a frustrated tone.
"Sanam, your mother has been addicted to pizza since before you were born," Asad pointed out. "Her pregnancy just ramped up her cravings, and they've never returned to normal. If her habit hasn't done her any harm in all these years, why would we take pizza away from her now?" he asked with a smile, pushing the plate back towards Zoya.
She mouthed a loving thank you to him, and he smiled back, mesmerized by the glow that made his Zoya so special. That had never changed over the years.
"We had such fun," Haya enthused, eating her eggs and ignoring the pizza drama. "Rahat is back on base now, and will be busy with some military exercises they want him to take charge of. I told him I'd be over here. Dad is still overseas for his big conference. You don't mind me being here, do you, Mamu Jaan?" she quipped teasingly.
"Why would I, Haya?" Asad replied. "Especially since you're my favorite niece on this continent."
"I'm your only niece on this continent, Mamu Jaan," Haya shot back.
"But that doesn't make the sentiment any less true," he murmured, pushing her favorite potato dish towards her. "You're a part of my Najma. Our tamater. How could I not rejoice in you spending time with us?"
Haya smiled at him in silent thanks, her eyes brimming with silent love for the man who was like a second father to her. Clearing her throat, she turned her head towards Sanam, "I heard the event was a huge success. And even the Nawab of Bhopal deigned to be there. There was a lot of buzz about it in the newspapers this morning."
Sanam nodded her head, taking a sip of her tea. "His being there ramped up the donations," she said. "And he also made a huge donation himself. We haven't made this much money in all of LSB's history."
"Well, that's great news," Haya murmured. "Maybe I should invite the Nawab to our school's fundraiser," she said musingly, tapping her chin. "If we can get hefty donations this year, then we could even get another teacher for the students. Think on it . . . smaller classes and less of a student-teacher ratio. Did you get a chance to meet him? Could you put in a good word for me, Sanam?" she asked with a cajoling smile.
Sanam snorted softly. "I wasn't the one flirting with him," she said with an impish grin, trying to hide it behind her cup of tea. "I didn't even meet the man. Ask Seher."
"What is this?" Zoya asked with an interested smile. "Flirting?"
"What the heck are you telling everybody?" Seher screeched from the top of the stairs. Running down to take a seat next to Sanam's, she reached out and tugged at her sister's hair. "I was not flirting, daddy," she asserted, throwing a beseeching glance at her father. Smiling at her mother, she held her thumb and index finger an inch apart, showing her just how much she had been flirting.
Reaching out for a paratha and some eggs, she glared at her sister before turning back to the others at the table. "He's a wonderful guy. Really sweet. But you shouldn't ask him to make an appearance. I don't think," she leaned in to whisper, "He even gets to decide. Ask the man in charge."
"What do you mean, Seher?" her mother asked in interest.
"Mom, Badi Ammi, you wouldn't believe it," Seher said, smirking at Sanam. "There's this other guy, Rehan something or other, who is the one in charge. He was even ordering the Nawab around! And that guy was with Sanam last night!" she finished gleefully.
All eyes turned towards Sanam, the shock apparent in their gazes.
Sanam blushed to be the center of attention. "We weren't together, per se," she argued. "We just happened to bump into each other. He wouldn't listen to me," she protested vehemently. "I barely got a name out of him!"
"Sanam," Badi Ammi said softly, "You were interested enough to press someone for a name? And a man at that?"
"Well, I told him my name," she muttered in reply. "It was a matter of etiquette that he tell me his."
"Sanam, he made an impression on you, huh?" Haya asked softly, reaching across the table to press Sanam's hand.
Asad looked unhappy at the direction this talk was taking. His Sanam blushing because of a guy? He expected this from Seher, but not his lioness! He opened his mouth to say something, but Zoya's foot kicked his under the table softly.
He turned to gaze at her in silent question.
"It's time they grew up," she said softly. "Let it be."
Asad shook his head at her, but kept his lips shut. She was right. Their daughters had grown up. He turned to gaze at them squabbling next to him. The two were loud in their exuberance, and it made him so happy to see them like this. Not that any of the other women in his life were any quieter. Haya egged Seher on from the other side of the table, with both Zoya and his mother laughing loudly.
"Seher Ji, there's a phone call for you," a voice called out from the side.
The twins turned to look at Kuljeet standing at the end of the table with the phone outstretched in one hand in the general direction of the twins. There was a look of uncertainty on her face.
"Kuljeet!" Sanam complained. "You've been with us for two months now, and you still can't tell us apart?!"
"Ji, it's not my fault," Kuljeet stammered. "You two are too alike. Even Raggu, the gardener, says it's hard sometimes to tell you two apart. And he's worked here for years! Phone call!" she reminded them.
Seher raised her hand and got the phone. Minutes later, she was gossiping away, while everyone else finished their breakfast in happy silence.
Asad's eyes moved over his daughters, his niece . . . his wife and mother. They were all so full of life . . . filling his life with colors.
They were what mattered. Only them.
"You know what I just heard!" Zoya squealed, coming over to sit next to Dilshad begum. "I've got some wonderful news!"
The family was sitting in the living room, having just finished eating lunch. It had been a quiet morning and looked to be a quiet rest of the day, but only if Zoya didn't drag them into something wonderful.
"Oh no, mom, not another wonderful thing that really won't be so wonderful," Seher teased her mother. "Remember the time you got so hyper over the celebrity that was going to come to dad's offices? He turned out to be a two-bit actor that you didn't even know."
"It's nothing like that," Zoya insisted.
"Is it like the time you thought you had won the big prize in the lottery, and ended up winning 50 rupees?" Sanam asked in interest.
"No!" Zoya protested, "It's nothing like that."
"Is it as wonderful as when you thought you'd gotten a reservation for a premier restaurant in Bhopal, but it turned out to be a total debacle?" Asad asked from behind the newspaper. "They tried to feed us raw food," he reminded her, shuddering with disgust.
"Allah miya, what's wrong with you Mr. Khan? That was a fusion restaurant! They expect you to like the raw food!" Zoya erupted.
Everyone hunched down, realizing that Zoya had reached her limit.
"Will you all please stop teasing Zoya?" Dilshad asked, pulling her daughter-in-law in for a hug. "Look at her face, bechari. You've taken the joy out of what made her so happy."
"Ammi," Asad protested. "She's not a bechari. And she knows we were just teasing her."
"Humph," Zoya murmured, turning her eyes away from the laughter she could see in her Asad's eyes.
"Mami Jaan, you know they were just playing," Haya cajoled, coming to sit on the other side of Zoya. Leaning over, she planted a kiss on her aunt's cheek. "So, what's the big news?"
"I don't think I want to share it with you guys," Zoya retorted with a mulish expression.
"Come on, Ammi," Sanam urged. "Tell us the big news, please!"
"Okay, fine," she said giving in immediately. "We have new neighbors!" Zoya yelled gleefully.
The family looked at each other quietly, and then said, "Yay!" in unison.
Zoya made a face, and then turned to look at Sanam and Seher. "Let's go welcome the neighbors. You too, Haya."
"But, they're your neighbors, Mami Ji. What would I do there? They're not even my...," her voice trailed off, when Zoya made another face at her.
"I went over there," Zoya enthused. "I saw a lovely woman, and I promised her I'd be back with some food to welcome them to the neighborhood. I think she must be the matriarch of the family. Like me."
Dilshad delicately cleared her throat.
"After you, of course," Zoya cried out. "Come on! We need to show them they made a good choice coming to this neighborhood and picking a house next to the Ahmed Khans!"
"You're just curious," Asad pointed out.
"Well, yeah," Zoya blithely agreed. "I want to meet the people there. Who knows? They might have some eligible guys for our daughters."
"And you want your daughters to have first pick.," Dilshad noted with a smile.
"It wouldn't hurt them to have choice," Zoya proffered.
Both girls looked at their mother in surprise.
"Since your father won't go," Zoya said, staring at an immobile Asad, "We can go. I'm not like that poor mother in Pride and Prejudice, waiting for her husband to go and introduce the family and invite them to dinner before we can get the lay of the land. We'll go ourselves. That way I can see if they have any marriageable boys for our girls. I think she has two sons. I was peeking over the back fence, and saw a couple of young, marriageable guys."
"Mom!" Sanam protested. "You said you didn't want us to marry too soon! Weren't you getting all emotional yesterday?"
"I changed my mind," Zoya said. "Think about it. If you get married into that house, you won't have to go far. You'll be right next door!" she crowed in triumph.
"And Zoya will go over all the time," Asad muttered drily.
Zoya nodded in mute agreement.
"Well, I'm off,' Seher said, getting up and grabbing her purse.
"Where are you going?" Zoya demanded. "You have to go over, so that I can check out the guys and their mother can check you two out."
"Mom!" Seher whined. "Sanam and I are twins. If they see her, they've seen me. So, sister," Seher said, turning to glance at Sanam, "Make a good impression for the both of us."
Sanam reached out to swat at her, but Seher stepped aside and ran out the door with a final goodbye.
"Ammi, stop!" Sanam protested, pulling away from her mother's persistent pulling and pushing. "We're just going over to give some food. Why did you make me get dressed up?" She stood still in exasperation, when he mother brushed back her hair one final time. Her hands were loaded with dishes filled with biryani, korma, etc. "Can we finish up, so that I can go home and eat? I'm hungry."
Haya laughed from the side. "Now you know how I felt when Mami Ji was going all hyper on me during my wedding preparations," she pointed out. "You would only laugh at me."
Sanam made a face at her cousin, reaching out to kick at her. Haya danced aside, her own hands full with drinks and bread for the new neighbors.
Zoya whisper-yelled at them to act like adults, and then rang the doorbell. "It's a beautiful house," Zoya said, looking up at the mansion, "But nothing like our home. It doesn't have that special something. No. Not like the Siddiqui Mansion."
"The Khan Mansion now, Ammi," she reminded her.
Zoya's gave grew clouded with memories, the smile slipping away.
"But you're right. It doesn't have us, Ammi," Sanam murmured.
The door opened, and the girls' eyes widened to see the big figure standing in the open doorway.
"Haye Allah, what is this?" the . . . woman cried out.
"Hello," Zoya cried out. "I spoke to you this morning. Remember? Sanam this is the lovely woman I told you about."
"Of course, how could I forget?" the woman replied. "You're back with yummy food. I was wondering how I was going to cook after being so tired after the move. It takes a lot out of you. And if I had to do any more work, I would hurt something in my fragile body. Main to hui chui mui," she said, twirling her braid in her hand.
"Ammi?" Sanam said out of the side of her mouth. "You really need to wear your glasses. That is not a woman!"
Haya giggled softly to the side.
"My name is Lateef," the woman said. "Please come in." She ushered the trio into the room. "Oh, everything smells so yummy. I can't wait to taste it."
The women looked around the house, the pillars, high ceiling and contemporary furniture making for an impressive view. Sanam's mouth dropped open to see a swimming pool in the center of the house, identical to theirs. How often did the same crazy design happen?
"What's going on here, Lateef?" a soft male voice called out from the side.
The three women turned their heads down the hallway and saw . . .
"Mom! That's the Nawab," Sanam said softly. "Did you know? Why didn't you say anything?! Seher will be so angry."
"I didn't have my glasses on," Zoya muttered through gritted teeth. "Do you think that I wouldn't have dragged her away from shopping for this?"
"Wow," Haya mouthed. "He's quite handsome. And you said that Seher was flirting with him last night?"
Sanam nodded with a smile.
"Asalam Alaikum," Zoya said, raising her hand to her head. "We thought that we would welcome you all to the neighborhood with some food."
She gestured for the two girls to put the food and drinks on the table.
Zoya moved over and began to uncover the dishes with Lateef's help. She pointed out the various mouthwatering delicacies and urged Lateef to taste them.
"Haye Allah, what is this?" Lateef cried out, his mouth closing around a spoonful of rice. "This is so delicious! Aahil baba, you have to try it!"
"Lateef, can you please tone it down?" another male voice asked in exasperation from another doorway.
Sanam froze at that voice. It was him! There was a soft sounds behind her, as if someone had moved to standing close behind her. Her thoughts flashed to her puffy cheeks and the bags under her eyes! Why hadn't she listened to her mother and put on some makeup?
Her shoulders slumped. There was no getting around it. She was going to have to face him. Sanam began to turn, and her foot slipped on a puddle of liquid on the floor.
"Allah miyah!" she yelped, as she began to fall. And then those arms were there once more. They were wrapping around her . . . and saving her again.
She leaned against the hard male chest, breathing in a scent that had become so familiar to her after just one meeting.
Looking up, she met his eyes once more.
He looked into her eyes for a frozen moment, and everything seemed to disappear. "What's this? You again." A beat of silence. He then began to smile. "Not that I mind, but we've got to stop meeting like this."
A/N: Here's Chapter 3 for your reading pleasure. Some of you have requested PMs, but the truth is that it is too time-consuming to do PMs on this site. If any of you would like notice of updates, I am also posting this story on my blog: darkice712 Blog. If you subscribe by putting your email in the field under "Email Subscription", you will get an email every time I update. I promise you that I have never gotten spam email from the blog site, so it shouldn't be too much trouble. I will also add in a link for the India Forum update so that it will take you directly to the updated post.
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