It didn’t take much to convince Nandini to do it after Manik’s little speech about how bungee jumping was not just a sport but to test the ultimate ability of human spirit, confidence and grit.
When they tied the straps around her ankles and lower legs, she faced the valley below the cliff, the mountains and snow-laden trees and just for once she turned her neck back to look at Manik. He was standing right behind her.
“Manik, do you think I’ll be able to pull it off without losing my mind?”
He lowered his face near her shoulder, and warmly assured her, “I already know that you’ll do well!! Face your fears and tell them that you are going to win over them!! Trust me… You are going to feel the thrill you have never felt before.”
“Really?” She was excited, already. She looked down, facing the valley and took a deep breath.
He slipped his hands around her waist and whispered near her ear, “Be confident. I’m right here!”
She turned to him sideways, as he bent over her and kissed her forehead… She was sure that for next few minutes, she wasn’t going to feel anything, as she was already in a dreamland by now!
Finally..She did it!!
It felt exactly like Manik had assured her…even more!! Liberating. Thrilling. Mesmerizing!!
So many firsts were happening in her life too. She had never done something as daring, as thrilling and as challenging as this, ever before! And she loved every moment of it!
She had never known before that pushing your boundaries beyond the comfort zone and taking up a challenge like this, could feel so deeply rewarding!
Breakfast at the huge boat, while returning from the site of bungee was another mind-blowing affair with a lavish spread of delicacies and drinks, while they basked under the bright sun at the terrace of the boat with the calm, beautiful lake around them.
“So, biking and bungee jumping…ha? What next?” She teased him, indulging in the mocha vanilla fudge spread over a platter of fresh fruits and berries.
His reply left her hand frozen even before she could dig in the next scoop. “Nothing much… Just a bit of skiing, snowboarding, paragliding, parasailing…”
She gulped whatever she had in her mouth and could hardly manage a nervous laugh on her face, “Err… ahem… Manik, my heart beats are still not normal after this crazy adventure. How about going around Switzerland, my way ?? Tomorrow??”
He adoringly smirked at that, placed his folded elbows on the table and leaned forward, “And your way is ??”
“Boating… site seeing… walking around… star gazing…”
He laughed, “Basically, all lazy activities!!”
“Well… that’s what I am !! Someone has to push me before I take a big leap towards something challenging!!’
“Don’t worry… I’ll be doing that for you!!” He grinned, without knowing that he will be doing all of it in future too.
The afternoon went seamlessly alluring, while they observed the ramp walk with leading designers showcasing their best fall-winter collection for the biggest buyers and suppliers. A row of meetings and discussions and the trade fair made it into a smooth, interwoven business venture.
Nandini loved every minute spent with Manik at work as well as at leisure.
When at work, she observed every proceeding like a keen learner, asked questions and noted down everything new that she thought she should learn more about the industry.
And when they were roaming around the city, he ensured that she had some of the best experiences that Switzerland offered, from food to traditional music, boat ride to thrilling adventures, a look around the culture and the museums, along with a walk around the best streets of Lucerne.
Needless to say, it was becoming a memorable experience of a lifetime for Nandini!!! In.Every.Possible.Way!!
When they reached back at the hotel, and before the elevator, she didn’t stop to wait for it. Instead, she moved ahead.
“Nandini…” He called her, spreading his hands in air.
“I’m taking the stairs…I’m not going in the elevator…” She declared.
He laughed like crazy at that, “Whaaatttt??? Have you lost it???”
“Manik!! I can’t trust you in the elevator!” She pressed her lips with a shy smile, as she walked backwards, nodded to refuse when he stood still to request her. She turned around and walked away.
He followed her and asked teasingly, “You didn’t like it??”
Beetroot red at her cheeks, she whispered as they took the stairs for third floor, “Ssshhh!!! Are you going to discuss it now?? At the stairs??”
“No, I asked just like that… You are avoiding the elevator today…so…soooo… I thought…”
Out of the blue, like an idiot, she blurted, “Elevator is not a proper place to …Gosshhhh…what am I saying???
He was already laughing at that, teasing her big time, “So, Miss Nandini Murthy, please tell me about a proper place to…”
“Shut up…shut up…shut up!!!!” She tried to ride the steps faster than him. But had forgotten that he had long legs. He could ride two steps at a time… beating her every time…!
“Don’t think you can beat me at that stupid game!” He warned her.
“I know… why did I even try??” She was panting by the time they reached third floor.
“Okay, forget it… We are free early today. Where do you want to go for dinner?” He asked as he walked ahead and took a turn in the corridor towards their room.
“I have no idea. My guide knows how to keep me on toes!” She moved her hands at her back to join them behind her and walked leisurely.
“Guide?? Ahaaannn?? I like that!!!” He laughed at how cutely she called him a ‘guide’… Then he asked, “Okay, leave that to me! You be ready in what…an hour??”
“Manik… I will come with you only on one condition!”
He stared at her as if she was speaking Greek. “Hello, madam!! No one lays conditions before me!”
“Well, I do!!” She lifted one shoulder in firm declaration and continued, “Like I said, there is a first time for everything… so why not start getting used to it!”
He chuckled, “Okay… What condition?”
“I will pay for dinner tonight…it’s on me!!”
He raised his brows as if it was a silly thought. When he started to dismiss it with a wave of his hand, saying, “Nandini…how can you even…” She interrupted him.
“You want me to join you or not?”
“So you need to know that it is important for my self esteem. I can’t let you pay everywhere!!”
He took a deep breath and frowned, “Honestly?? I didn’t even think about it before you made such a big issue!”
“I know!! And that is because you haven’t thought about things like these, ever before. You never had to… thankfully! But people like me, from a humble background, need to take care about such things to keep our dignity intact…”
“If it really doesn’t matter to you about who pays, then come along without thinking twice about it… what’s the big deal about it?” She raised her chin… Also, the bar of respect in his eyes.
“No, it’s really not a big deal… and yes, it doesn’t matter who pays!! So if it makes you feel good… go ahead…”
“Thank you!!” She chuckled in glee.
He grinned to tease her, “But don’t blame me later that your entire savings got chucked off in one meal… Switzerland is one hell of an expensive country… one of the most expensive countries in the world. You pay nearly 20 times what you pay for a decent dinner in Delhi.”
She pretended to think about it and then smirked, “I’m sure banks provide loan for dates, here!”
Quite evidently, he laughed again and replied, “Yeah, banks have a dedicated separate ‘dinner- date-loan’ for crazy people who insist on paying…”
“Don’t worry. I won’t need a loan. If I ever get stuck, I’ll flash your visiting card… what did you tell me about it??”
“Oh God!! You still remember it??” He turned away to walk again with a sheepish grin on his face.
“How can I forget that?!! It was such a morale booster from you!! See, I still carry your visiting card with me, ever since you told me that it works almost like credit card!!” She teased him.
He couldn’t stop laughing, and entered his room, “Shut up, okay!! And stop embarrassing me!! See you in an hour…”
Even, she turned to enter her room and stood behind the closed door, with her back tucked to it, blushing profusely!!
Something weird had happened to her. For the first time in her life, she was unable to handle her poor heart who had decided to stay tugged to someone else…him… Manik Malhotra!!
If he appeared sweet and adorable when he laughed hard, then, it was almost a task to come up with adjectives when he was embarrassed and was trying to resist her tease. He had looks to die for when he was smirking carelessly, laughing uninhibitedly, teasing her playfully or giving her a pep talk about confidence, whether it was about wearing a dress her mom had chosen for her or asking her not to bother about her styling at all, or even about the merits of doing something as crazy as jumping off the cliff… and she had been so smitten that she had done it all…everything he had asked her to do…she had gone ahead and done it. Stupid girl!! She whacked herself!
He was the Manik, no one knew about, and he chose to share this side of him, with her!!
She knew she was fortunate!!!
Lost in the dreams woven around him and with thoughts pre-occupied by him, she opened her cupboard to take out a beautiful dress for the lovely evening she was going to spend with him…
Every moment spent with him was special!!
She could observe him for hours and hours… she could listen to him speak non stop… she sighed at the way he rolled his eyes and twisted his lips… she was in awe of his business acumen… she adored his witty replies to simple questions… she loved his confidence, his attitude, his grins, and his smirks…She.Loved.Him !!
The realisation was not something sudden or dramatic. Even when the feelings had just started creeping in, she had known about them… but to accept it so clearly, was something that hit her hard…She blushed profusely!
‘Aiyappa!! Do I really love him…?? That menace of a man?? That mean machine?? Really ??? I mean… I’m so silly to even ask like that… Who on earth, won’t fall in love with him…??!!!’
She asked the almighty whom she had been talking to, since childhood! A voice deep in her heart confirmed it!!
It was huge!!!
Finally, she was in love…and how!!
To accept it to yourself is the first step… Now she was desperately waiting to tell this to Manik…
She couldn’t wait to see the look on his face when she told him that she loved him more than anything else in the world.
She was sure that he would have something interesting and embarrassing to say, but it would mean exactly like she felt…
She chose a dark grey, beaded, tulle cocktail dress in tea length, perfect for a dinner with Mr. Malhotra! The shoulders, the front upper part and the entire back of the dress was in transparent chiffon with embroidered motifs at intervals over the transparent material while beads at the corset and waist accentuated the feminine detailing over it! She let her hair loose with it, cascading over her shoulders and black pencil heels to team with it!
When he didn’t knock at her door, even after almost an hour, she decided to go and knock at his door!!
Should I?? Why not?? It’s not like only boys should be at the door…waiting for girls!! If I am ready, which I am… I should totally go and wait for him…”
She quickly picked up her long jacket and her bag, balancing both at her forearm and locked her door. When she knocked at his door, he opened the door and quickly went back inside, without even looking at her as he was on a phone call. He just mouthed, a whisper to her, “Just give me a second…” And he was back to his call.
“No problem. Please carry on!!” She slowly stepped IN his room, for the first time since they had come here and noticed how neat it was!! So well kept for a man!! It was much organized that her own room, where she had been living like a storm lived in that room, with ten things on the table and fourteen on her chair, dresses on her bed while she tried to get the perfect look for her and her belongings all over the place. Compared to her room, Manik’s room appeared almost unused. She looked around and then observed him…
He stood at one corner, talking on phone, noting something on a paper kept on the table, looking like everything that made a woman’s heart race and left her dealing with her haywire emotions.
As if on cue, he turned towards her and was stunned!!
For the first time, he noticed her, ever since she came inside his room!! She sighed, not because he looked handsome, but more at the way he was looking at her! She didn’t need him to tell her how gorgeous she appeared. It was evident in his eyes.
He couldn’t talk more. Quickly, he stammered and whispered something non-descript over the phone, “Er… Alright… I’ll get back with you!!” With that he kept his phone down on the table.
“Shall we?” She asked.
“Sure!” He took slow steps with his gaze penetrating her soul and eyes fixed on her.
She wished she would just take a casual step away, turned towards the door and walked out of his room…out in the safe expanse of the corridor… away from the closed walls of his room where the air between them was so tensed that she could palpate the heat between them even from the distance. Quite weirdly, she didn’t do anything like that. She stayed rooted, holding her ground, while he stepped closer to her with his towering persona and his deep eyes intimidating her!
Finally, good sense prevailed and she turned around to leave!! But too late!! He stretched his hands and held her arms from behind, just below her shoulders, with him standing behind her. She squirmed and blushed while he stepped closer to her at her back and leaned forwards, down till her shoulders. He was so close to her that she could hear his breaths just behind her.
Her hands fidgeted with her jacket and handbag, with her lips pressed together and a distinct frown between her brows, apprehensive of what he was going to do, next!!
It was a bad… bad move to come to his room!!