It was late evening, by the time Manik reached Malhotra mansion with Harshad accompanying him…to their way back home… in a true sense…
It was a moment of exhilaration for Harshad as he was going home after so many weeks… he had been in Milan, then in the prison… and then 1 week in the hospital had him craving for home and homely comforts. Especially after the hospital, he felt rejuvenated and had recovered from the physical weakness and emotional depression developed in the tower where he was imprisoned. He was ready to go home without any emotional scars and physical drain.
They had already called dadi to inform that they will be reaching soon. Dadi arranged for an impromptu get-together to celebrate the home-coming of her family. She also called Nikita and Cabir and Cabir’s family, his mother, brother and sister-in-law for a family dinner.
Maya was ecstatic to see Harshad after so long. She had been told that he was in LA for a concert. Now, seeing him with Manik, she realised how Manik had always been a support and not a threat to Harshad. Harshad was happy in his own world.
Dadi and Maya chachi welcomed them, leaving no stone unturned to let them know how much they were missed. Harshad hugged dadu after Maya and dadi, and cleared his position in a hushed whisper, “Dadu, Manik came to get me. That is why I have come here! He has forgiven me.”
Dadu smirked, looking at Manik beyond Harshad’s shoulder, and replied to Harshad, “I could guess that.”
“Dadu, as per your condition, can I now go to Venice? I just read that they are going to start a music workshop of 2 months there, with esteemed guitarist and vocalist Lorenzo Marretto.”
Dadu nodded, “Of course. Looking at the state of Milan office, there is no point in asking you to be a part of business. So I guess, the best will be to do what you love the most!”
“Thank you, dadu!!” Harshad was excited. Dadu blessed him and Harshad went to Maya to share this news.
Dadu approached Manik and patted on his back. Manik was embarrassed as he had lied to everyone that he had no idea about Harshad. He cleared his throat and wet his dry lips with his tongue, nodded sheepishly and said, “I’m sorry, dadu!!”
“Sorry?? For what??” Dadu shrugged.
Manik began to explain, “For Harshad… I didn’t tell you about it… I mean, that office in Tour Montparnasse … actually… it was…”
Dadu smiled, “What are you talking about, son? We know nothing!! And as far as Harshad is concerned, whatever you have done for him till date has always turned out for his benefit. It has always helped him!”
Manik spoke in a low tone, “But this time, the intention was not that… It was my anger…”
“Whatever it was… it worked wonders…” Dadu winked and moved away, relieving Manik. Manik smiled and rotated his tongue in his mouth.
Cabir and Nikita had arrived too. They met everyone. Cabir asked Manik to get the drinks while dadi asked the helpers to arrange a platter of Indian and Italian snacks for everyone. Manik opened the extravagant, glittering, crystal-studded drinks cabinet on one side of the huge living room and stood before it, wondering which drinks to take out when Cabir came and stood behind him.
“Harshad seems to be really changed!” Cabir remarked, looking behind, at Harshad.
Manik rubbed his index finger over his lower lip and replied, in a teasing fake-upset tone, “All credit goes to you! Looks like you counselled him, talked to him, sat with him…”
“Yeah… we got along really well… we even became great friends…” Cabir smirked, teasing Manik, knowing how possessive he was for his friends and for everything he loved.
“Like… I don’t know you!!” Manik rolled his eyes and smirked back.
Cabir laughed aloud. “Okay… we didn’t become friends, that’s not even possible!! But we were really cordial with each other after we took him to the hospital. We used to talk to him every day about how he felt when he was locked up and where his bad habits had landed him. Niki, dadu and I met him every day. He spoke about his feelings, repented being a monster to you. He regretted his mindlessness. He appeared like a helpless puppy at that time… poor kid, misguided and mislead, I think…”
“Yeahh…” Manik turned back to look at Harshad and agreed.
“I hope he got some senses this time…what do you think?”
Manik shrugged, “Yeahhh… for now, maybe!! But it’s too early to trust him… who knows about future…Let’s hope for the best!! I have forgiven him to let him start his life on a fresh note… but we will keep a check on him…”
“Thanks… you really took care of him… I am told!” Manik took out cans of cola and placed them on the table facing the cabinet.
Cabir laughed out loud and smirking constantly, he patted on Manik’s back, “Come on, buddy… we did nothing!!! The real lesson was taught by you!!”
Manik was embarrassed, yet he laughed sheepishly, “Shut up!!”
“Ssshhh!! We must not discuss… but I really loved what you did!! 54th floor, right?? How do you get these ideas??”
“57th!!” Manik corrected him.
Cabir opened his mouth wickedly, “Boyyyyy…. Like… I’m so proud of you bro!! THIS is called ANGER!!! Whoaaaa…. tell me, how do you excel at everything you do??”
“Shut up or I’ll kill you!!” Manik glared at him but Cabir kept irritating him and told him how impressed he was with him.
Nikita walked towards them, and raised her brows, teasing Manik, “What’s the joke?”
Manik rolled his eyes and moved away while Niki and Cabir smirked teasing him. Niki informed them, “By the way, Mukti, Dhruv and Alya are coming too. To meet all of us.”
“That’s great!!” Cabir chirped.
Dadi asked Cabir, “When is your family arriving, beta?”
Cabir replied, “Dadi, they’ll be here in around half-an-hour…”
Everyone sat around in the living room and chatted, waiting for the rest of the guests to join them. Dadu and dadi tried to make Nikita comfortable, now that they had accepted her whole-heartedly. Maya saw no reason to go opposite to them. She was one of those who swayed towards the side with maximum benefits and everyone knew her… they kind of accepted her like that…
Manik excused himself, “I’ll go and freshen up.”
“Yeah. and bring Nandini with you! She is upstairs, getting ready!” Dadi said as Manik stood up to leave.
“And there is still time for the other guests to arrive… so you can take your time… no need to hurry!!” Cabir called out, teasingly.
Manik rolled his eyes and turned around, swaying his jaw with a dirty stare towards Cabir, making him and everyone else, laugh…while he took stairs to go up!
Manik walked into his room taking swift steps but stopped right at the entrance. His eyes fell straight ahead at the sight of the beauty before him, who stood confused, looking at herself in the mirror with an unsure look in her eyes, her hands at her back, zipping up her crop top and neck tilted sideways.
Nandini noticed the movement inside the room when Manik entered. A look ahead in the mirror and she knew that he was home!
It was the first time she was meeting him after the entire revelation. The last time, he had left this room, he had angrily declared that he was never going to forgive her. Somehow, his reputation was like that too. She was reminded of that and she squirmed. The unsure look on her face deepened and she became sad.
Manik looked into her eyes, through the mirror and noticed how they lowered down after meeting his eyes once… and how her face appeared sad after that… sad, but still so beautiful !!
He walked into the room with slow steps this time. She tried to break the ice, trying to appear normal and spoke in a soft voice, “Woh… dadi asked me to wear this dress… but I’m not sure…”
He didn’t reply to her. Instead, he walked ahead to reach the mirror and stood leaning by the wall, with his arms folded across his chest, one arm and shoulder resting by the wall, legs crossed and neck tilted, observing her … the posture enough to intimidate even the toughest of souls… she hated it that he always did that… and was even aware of it!!!
She nodded making a confused pout, this time looking straight at him, “I said, I’m not sure!!”
He pulled out a box of coloured slips meant as sticky notes from the drawer, along with a marker pen and scribbled over it. When he gave it to her, she didn’t take it and shrugged, looking at it, “What’s that?”
He posted the sticky note on the mirror. He had written over it. ‘You look fine… the dress is pretty!”
She rolled her eyes, and frowned, “Just the dress??”
He moved his tongue inside his mouth to scrape through his gums, not amused with the way she had tried to act cute. She asked, “Anyway… whatever!!! Why this stupid note??”
He wrote on the other one. ‘I guessed that you love to communicate in letters, instead of talking!’
He posted it on the table and walked away, opening his cupboard to take out something to change.
She read the note and huffed, in a typical wifey-like chiding tone, “Awesome!! As if you would have listened… na…na… sat and talked to me about it??!!”
Immediately, she realised that she had to apologise and not fight with him about it. She spoke softly, in a cajoling voice as she turned to face him, “Okay… Manik… I’m sorry!!”
He took a deep breath and didn’t reply to her. She walked around and reached him, while he was scanning his clothes. She continued in her sweetest tone that she could manage, “You know, na… why I did all that??”
Again, he didn’t reply to her. In fact, he didn’t even pay attention to her.
With one hand she held the cupboard door and leaned at it, acting cute, fluttering her eyelids, while holding her ear with the other hand, speaking softly, sensually, “I know it’s difficult for you… but try forgiving me, once!! Please??? I promise, you won’t regret, Mr. Malhotra!!!”
He had to really struggle to stop smiling at that, to stop melting before her cute, kiddish antics and to stop getting swept off by her charms… the ones she always used as weapons against him…
He clicked his tongue and made a careless expression on his face, taking out a light blue shirt and white trousers from his cupboard. She took the clothes from his hand and put them back in the cupboard. Then she took out a dark, chocolate brown, full sleeves tee-shirt and khaki shorts, giving it to him, “This looks so sexy on you!!”
He huffed, stared at her angrily, kept back the clothes chosen by her, straight into the cupboard and took out the ones that he had selected earlier. As he turned to the washroom, she took quick steps to stand before him, “So, you won’t talk to me??”
He turned his eyes away and stood painfully bored as she talked.
“Ever???” Raising her chin in an adorable manner, she asked.
He shifted his eyes back to her and glared at her, went back to the dressing table and scribbled on the sticky note, brought it back, along with the pad and pen… and stuck it on her hand.
Don’t try to act cute. You write lovely letters. Now, practice that skill for as long as you wish so… for I loved it… What’s the need to talk, anyway?!’
She frowned, “Wowww… like really!!! You are so over-confident of yourself, aren’t you?? You would have talked?? … You didn’t even listen to me, when you banged the door and left, declaring that you are NEVER going to forgive me… I knew that already… how do I make my voice reach you if you don’t listen…Okay… if you want to remain angry, I’ll give you time…And I’ll apologise as long as you want me to… I’m really sorry that I lied to you… Sorry, that I went against you… Really, really, really sorry but I had to involve dadu and Cabir… I couldn’t have done it by myself… I needed them, and I knew that these are the only 2 people, you would confide in, if you were in my place… sorry that I didn’t talk to you before taking this step… You may not want to forgive me right now, but I will keep apologising … let’s see, how long you stay angry with me…”
Almost giving up, he wrote a note. ‘All the best!!’
She rolled her eyes, smiled and then teased him, “Just one question… how will you make love to me, if you don’t talk to me??”
He raised his brows and curled his lips in appreciation of her wittiness and wrote another note, making her go crimson red with the blush when she read it.
‘Who told you that we need to talk to each other, for that…’
She went downstairs, giving up, when he continued to talk in small notes and didn’t speak anything in words. He came down after taking a relaxing, warm shower and wearing the attire that she had chosen for him.
She sighed when he came down. That, he had chosen what she had selected for him, was a relieving sign. That, he was acting cute by writing all those chits was relieving too. At least he was not shouting at her.
Manik greeted everyone. When his eyes met hers, she twisted her lips in appreciation and he smirked. For next two hours, they stayed busy entertaining the guests, meeting people, talking to them, cracking jokes and enjoying the time with family and friends. The entire evening, they didn’t talk to each other…
During the dinner, every time Nandini tried to serve him, he refused. But when anyone else served him or offered him something, he gladly accepted it, pissing her off. She took out her phone and messaged him.
‘You want to talk like this?? Fine!! But I hate it when you are not allowing me, near you… I hate it that you are not letting me serve you… I hate it that you are talking to everyone, except me!!’
He replied to her message, sitting in between a dozen of guests around them. ‘You should have thought about that before messing with me! Don’t you know me? Still?????’
‘What I did was important… look around you and say honestly that it wasn’t…’
‘I agree with you… and I am thankful for all that you did… but, I didn’t like it that you didn’t tell me anything about it… maybe, we could have done it together…”
“No, we couldn’t have… you are not that easy to deal with…”
“So, you didn’t even try???”
She sighed and kept her phone at the table to concentrate on dinner but she couldn’t. He might have said that but she knew that Manik wasn’t even discussing Harshad at that time… Taking a cool decision wasn’t possible because his anger had been blocking his sensible thoughts…
All had turned well now. There was no point in fighting. She replied after a long time…
‘Manik, I apologised so many times… I will continue to apologise… please forgive me!’
Manik smirked and swayed his jaw, earning an angry glare from her. Gloriously, victoriously, he typed on his phone screen. ‘Awww… how amazing it feels!!! I have been apologising for every small and big thing, ever since I met you… THIS role reversal feels sooooo good!!!!’
“You are jerk… a big jerk!! I hope you know that!!!” She typed furiously, smiling away to the Alya and Dhruv who were there to meet them but behaved almost like a couple.
‘Yes, I know that!! And I suddenly love myself, all over again… in – control…‘ He swept his tongue across his gums and spread his hands in air, stretching luxuriously on the seat where he had been sprawling.
Cabir’s jokes refused to end. Everyone was laughing. Dadu, dadi had always liked him, as Manik’s friend. He was almost a family to them. And now, he had really become family to them. His family liked Niki too and had accepted her with her past. Manik was finally relieved, as a brother. A lot of his stress was relieved today. It couldn’t have been better.
After some time, Manik turned around for a few times, stood and scanned the room but couldn’t spot Nandini around. Suddenly, he was worried. He took out his phone and called her. But she didn’t answer the call. Furious, irritated, frustrated and worried, he messaged her, ‘Where are you?’
‘Tired!! I need a break!!‘
‘Where exactly, you are taking this break??‘
‘I’m not telling you… Go, figure out yourself!!‘
‘Not fair, Nandu… this was supposed to be my turn to trouble you…‘ He rolled his eyes, wondering where she had gone.
‘You’ve troubled me enough!! If you are not talking to me, I feel so lonely there, watching everyone, except me, laughing and enjoying,…If you are not talking to me, the world appears so gloomy and I don’t want to show it on my face to everyone… If you are not talking to me, it doesn’t matter who else does…‘
Nandini breathed in the fresh breeze arising from the Seine and hugged herself as the weather was getting cold and she had nothing to wrap around her, over her lace crop top. She walked along the sidewalk, taking slow steps and counted the stones on the pathway under her feet, just to keep herself occupied… just to divert her attention from her sad state of mind… to not think, what she had just lost…
The beautiful bond they had rekindled in Barcelona seemed to be slipping out of her hand, despite numerous assurances from her heart that all was going to be well. She felt like crying. In an attempt to help Manik shake off his fears, she had shaken Manik’s belief in her. He was never going to trust her again. She felt so low at that thought!!
That is… IF he ever decided to talk to her… She had no idea when he was going to start talking to her… He was so stubborn, just like her… and he never forgave people… and he hated to be controlled and told what to do… he hated people who acted against him…but then he loved her so much… he couldn’t live without her, the way she couldn’t… he sought for her at every place and every step… so that means that he should come looking for her…
“Such a complicated husband!!!!” She kicked the floor with her foot… rolled her tongue and spoke aloud… a little louder than how she wanted it to be…
She didn’t expect a reply for that, so she was surprised when she heard him speak, “A little less complicated than you, wifey!!!”
Opening her eyes and mouth wide, she turned around to find him descending the stairs of the bridge, below which, she had been standing. Pont Marie!!
She folded her hands across her chest and nodded, “How did you find me?”
He was walking towards her. He grinned, “Didn’t I tell you a few days back, that whenever you will be lost, away from me, I’ll find you back??!!”
“Awww… I’m so touched!!” She animated her reply, making him laugh. Irked at him, she scrunched her nose and made a face, “But really, how did you guess?”
“You have no idea how predictable you are! Anyone could have guessed that!!” He grinned more.
“Yes!!! … and yeah… cheesy and filmy too!! You really believe in these bridge legends??” He smirked.
She huffed, “You’ve come here to make fun of me?”
He shrugged, not laughing this time. Instead, he replied in a husky voice, “No!! I’ve come here because I was missing you!”
“Missing me?! You were not even talking to me!!” She complained in a cute voice.
“I wasn’t talking to you just to trouble you and tease you. I was kept in dark by you and I couldn’t bear that… I needed to take that frustration of not being a part of something you knew about… ” He spoke honestly. And then added with a flirtatious bent to his tone, “And even when I am not talking to you, I am used to seeing you around…I want you, around…at all times…”
“Liar!” She whispered with a little blush on her cheeks.
He had reached right before her, facing her, and spoke in a husky voice, “I’m not surprised that you chose Pont Marie to come and unwind… this place has a strange vibe… a positive energy…”
She bit her lower lip and spoke in a sweet voice, “If I ever do again, what I did… go against you… lie to you… betray you… not agree to you… then, you have every right to fight with me, scold me, shout at me… hurl those venomous words, your ‘Manik Malhotra’ trademark thing… and even ask me to do anything to make up for it…just be angry with me and finish it off, there and then!! Please don’t drag it… or keep it simmering inside you…”
He smirked, “How confidently, you just told me that you will do it again!!!”
She laughed at that and said, “Didn’t you just say that I am predictable??… Honestly, something about you gives me that confidence… that I can do anything and get away with it!! I know that you will always understand…”
He stepped closer and held her arms, “Something about you tells me too…that I am going to love whatever you do… no matter how strong and confident I am before everyone else, I know that I have you watching my back… You are the reality check to my flamboyant personality… you are the anchor to my self-obsessed ship…You add spice to my dull, monotonous routine… you add colours to my grey life…”
She curled her hands around his neck, “I loved what you spoke… thanks!!! And thanks for bringing those sparks to my stable life!! You literally scared me… I thought you were never going to talk to me…ever again!!!”
He laughed at that, pulling her closer, and made a big show of a tease, animating his words, “Ohhh, How can I ever do that?? I have promised you a ‘forever’ under Pont Marie!!”
She glared at him and murmured under her breath, “You’ll never stop teasing me…”
“Never!!” He nodded and before she could open her mouth to say something, he kissed her on her lips, making her go numb and feeling dumb. Feeling dumb had a different meaning altogether when she heard a lot of people cheering for them, standing over the top of the bridge. The voices appeared familiar and they took their names too.
She turned around to find the entire clan there, from dadu, dadi, Harshad, Niki, Cabir and everyone else who was at the party, including Dhruv, Alya and Mukti. Nandini was so embarrassed that she blushed beetroot red and separated from Manik.
This PDA was not her style. It was so awkward. Shocked at being kissed on the road, before the family, she turned to him, nearly panicking. He shrugged, “Don’t worry! This is Paris. Everyone kisses everywhere here!!”
Baffled, she couldn’t believe it that how casual he behaved, “Manik, what’s this??”
Dadu called out to everyone, “Come on people, we have teased them enough. Manik brought us here for dessert. Let’s go and have ice cream across the road!!” Everyone chuckled and followed dadu.
Manik leaned closer to Nandini’s shoulder and whispered, “This was your last punishment. See, how amazing it feels when you bring everyone else into what was supposed to stay between us!!!”
Sheepish, she rolled her eyes, “I’m sorry!!! But honestly, I did that because I couldn’t have done anything regarding Harshad, without dadu and Cabir.” Then she punched him on his arms, “But you have to take revenge for everything. You didn’t have to do this… you could have kissed without them looking at us…”
“You wait and watch… Next time, you do something like this, I’ll be inviting them to a holiday with us!!” He threatened her.
“You invite people on our holiday and I’ll make it so memorable for you that next time, you will think ten times before you bring your family in everything we do…”
He smirked, adoringly and fondly, loving her retorts, “You won’t change na?? Ever??”
She chirped too, nodding cutely in her reply, “Never!! As long as you stay the way you are!”
He embraced her in his arms, dissolving her existence in his own. “Nandini Malhotra, promise me under Pont Marie that we will forever stay the Spark and Spice in each other’s lives…”
She laughed heartily at the way he had been teasing her, “Stop making fun of it!! I really believe in Pont Marie!!!”
He touched his forehead over hers, and sighed, “I don’t know about all that but your beliefs make me want to believe in everything that makes our relationship, for eternity!!!”
“Then, kiss me… for a couple who kisses and makes up after a fight, stays forever!!! Whether below Pont Marie or at any damn place in the world…”
“I love you so much…” He spoke in a compelling whisper over her lips, “Thanks for coming in my life!!”
“Love you too… and you don’t need to say thanks… I’m in your life, for there is no other place, I was destined to be!!”
He claimed her lips in another kiss… a fervent kiss this time as the family was not watching anymore…
His deep, warm embrace secured her close to his heart, making her close her eyes, making her spine stiffen and her knees go numb, he kissed her as if there was no tomorrow. She held him as a ship holds on to her anchor, like he was the only source of strength to her trembling form… Softly, he sighed over her lips.
“May we keep fighting, keep making up, keep trusting each other, keep loving and laughing together…”
“And not even a day goes dull in our lives…”
“May the sparks fly forever.”
“May the spice be the flavor.”
…………………. End Of The Story ……………….
I’ll be posting the Epilogue and a bonus chapter tomorrow!
Thanks for reading 🙂