He chuckled, with another irritating tease, “Such things are not planned… Nandu…”
One sentence from him was enough to make her cheeks burn. She closed her eyes tight and thanked God for the darkness inside the room as he couldn’t see her blushing.
The room was immersed in darkness, with only a faint source of night light, somewhere from near the door. The time was wee hours of the morning and Nandini was still not able to come to terms with the fact that she was lying on a king size double bed with a stranger, buried under one large quilt.
Given that they had met just thrice before this and talked for a few times on phone, how irresponsible of their families to think that it was completely acceptable for the newly weds to sleep with each other. The fact that they had tied the knot before their families gave it an unspoken seal of acceptance that it was okay to be in the same room, on the same bed.
It was silly. It was ironic and very awkward. Already tough on her. To top that, he was now teasing her…
So much for the dare!
No one had ever done that before. She was the one who used to tease people, make them speechless and cracked jokes. No one did that to her. So, this was another new for her. Someone could actually make her speechless by his merciless teasing.
She moved her hand sideways, for she had seen that there were small cushions lined by the headrest. Not bothering about how her hand touched him and startled him, while looking for the cushion, she moved her hand side by side to locate a cushion, picked it and hit it over his arm, “That tease earned you a whack!”
Surprised at that sudden reaction, and liking it, he teased more, “Heavens! You don’t like people calling you ‘Nandu’ ??”
“Manik, you know that it was not about the ‘Nandu’ part… I mean, sure it is embarrassing. Only close ones call me Nandu… but the whack was for…”
“For??” He asked, teasing more.
Another blow from the cushion met him, “For trying to act just too smart for your skin!”
He laughed, rubbing his arm, “Easy girl! I was simply trying to make it a bit less awkward between us.”
“By cracking awkward jokes?”
“Awkward? Yeah… yeah… The girl who tells the boy, on their first meet, that she is a virgin, finds a subtle joke awkward! Ahh-mazingg!!”
She pressed her lips hard. His tease found no end. It was almost a thread, by now.
“Manik, I have told you before that I said that to scare you away. I thought that you will step back thinking that the girl is too bold!”
He laughed heartily at that, staring at the dark ceiling with his eyes open. He folded his arm and tucked his hand below his head like a pillow, “Nandini, I might have to break this news to you, but a girl who is a virgin despite having three boyfriends at different points of time in her life is NOT bold. Period. We are not counting that paid party.”
For the first time in her life, she found herself justifying her stand for not sleeping around with different people. “Err… so what? …I didn’t want to experiment and none of the guys made me want to do it!”
He grinned at that at first, taking his lips in and then laughed out loud for a short moment. He was itching to tease her more, but then, he decided to let go of the impulse to tease her. He had to leave her at that. He could have gone teasing her for long but he had to consider that the poor girl was tired.
He sighed, “Good night, Nandu.”
“You are laughing?… What makes you laugh??” She turned to face him this time, lying on her side to ask him to reply. She wasn’t going to sleep, now that she was sure that he had laughed at her expense.
“Nothing! Go to sleep. You are tired.” His voice had an unmatched authority. No wonder he was the Head of Creative Management Team. But she was no less either.
“I will… Tell me first… what made you laugh so loud… so evidently when I said that ‘none of them made me want to do ‘it’… Did you mean to say that I am ugly or undesirable?”
He was offended at the connotation. “Are you crazy? When did I say that? Don’t derive meanings out of no words!”
“Then why did you laugh?” She was not giving up.
His smirk and tease returned, “I was wondering – how does one do that? You know… make you ‘want to do it’… you can tell me if you have a set criteria about a man, who would make you want to do that…It might come handy to me…” With that he laughed again.
“Myyyy Gawwwd!!” She was blushing hard when she whispered, “You are so shameless…”
It was ‘his’ day, it seemed and he was clearly winning. He grinned more, “Come on, don’t tell me that you didn’t think about it. We never made any rules regarding sleeping arrangements. I really thought that getting married was good enough to do it, but now that you have some criteria to fit your requirements, I’m up for it… I may want to try my luck…”
Blushing hopelessly, she hit him with the cushion in her hand for 2-3 times. “You are such a tease and I’m such an idiot. I keep talking nonsense, only to let people hold on to my words and make it embarrassing for me…”
He laughed and laughed and laughed when she hit him with the cushion. He had never laughed so much in past few years. At least, not a single instance that he could remember. And he was loving every moment of it. Laughing was a good, feel-blessed, kind of an exercise. She was so pleasant to be with…
So different from everyone else he had known, in last so many years…
She turned away, “Good night, Manik!”
“What? You became speechless, so soon?”
She ducked herself in the quilt, “Thank your stars that I’m too tired today to come up with proper retorts… Otherwise, no one messes with me…”
He pressed his lips to suppress the laughter, didn’t speak more and simply nodded, willing to stay quiet after that.
She sighed, “And stop telling everyone that you talk less… Your ‘less’ is enough to shut my ‘more’… God knows how I would have handled you, if you spoke more… I mean, more ‘more’…”
He laughed again. Everything she spoke, made him grin, smirk or laugh more. “Oh my God, my cheeks are hurting from laughing so much, after so long!”
She whined, “And my cheeks are burning… and red… you’ve embarrassed me so much…”
He sighed and spoke in a warm, considerate voice, “Relax… I was preparing you for a long embarrassing session that you might have to endure tomorrow morning and henceforth…”
She whispered, appearing scared and worried, “You think so?”
He confidently declared, “I’m so sure!”
Early morning 7:30 am…
A subtle knock disturbed their sleep. Nandini turned around, turning sides twice and ducked her face inside the quilt. Manik opened his eyes and turned his neck towards her. Her tiny form lost inside the quilt made a hilarious sight. He couldn’t stop grinning at that.
“Nandini…” He whispered, trying to make a conversation with a rounded shape of quilt.
“I heard that knock…” Her muffled voice was heard from somewhere deep.
“We need to get up.” He struggled to get up and finally sat on the bed, accidentally touching her leg when he stretched his long legs. She was so soft that he hated to pull his leg away. She felt the same touch and froze. Her sleep had now left her for good.
She held the edge of the quilt with her mehendi covered hands, a sight so pure, that he couldn’t remove his eyes and stared unabashedly at the visual before him. Holding the edge of the quilt, she slid it slowly from above her face, leaving her silky hair spreading across her face, again making him want to hold those few curls and clear them off her face. She removed those hair and opened her droopy eyelids, only to find his eyes meeting her eyes at a short distance.
It was a deeply stirring look…. or maybe not…
Speechless for a short moment, she convinced herself that there was nothing special in those eyes. Maybe, just a sense of amazement, after spending the night buried under one quilt with this stranger, or maybe, a sense of wonder to find a girl first thing, early in the morning, in his bed. It was a new experience for him as well. She shrugged the thoughts while his eyes stayed stuck on her.
She frowned slightly, “Why so early?”
As if shaken out of a spell, he cleared his throat and turned his eyes away, “Err… we have a flight to catch… to Lucknow. And there must be a row of rituals…”
Before he could speak more, she interrupted him, with a disappointed refusal, “Whattt??? Noooo!! Please no… I don’t have anymore strength…”
The knock repeated.
Manik jumped out of the bed and impulsively stretched his hand towards her. She held his hand and allowed him to pull her to sit straight on the bed. Once again, she had him gawking at her when she collected all her messed hair together and raised them up till the top of her hair to make a loose bun. He wondered how effortlessly pretty she was…
‘Does this girl have any idea that how her small little actions make her appear so cute… She doesn’t even register or notice these subtle gestures, she makes… how unintentionally attractive…!!’
She moved her hand on her face, as if to rub something off, and asked him, “Is there something on my face?”
“No!” He nodded.
“Then, why are you looking at me, like that?”
He nodded and smiled sheepishly. Quickly he turned around the bed and whispered in a request, “Just 2 days more? Endure the torture for this weekend. Monday, we’ll be in Bangalore, on our own… no more pretenses after that, I promise!”
“No problem!” She smiled and covered herself completely with the quilt around her.
“I’ll open the door…”
“Hmm…” She nodded and made a soft sound.
As if partners in crime, they agreed on bearing it for some more. Nandini kept sitting on the bed, inside the quilt and Manik opened the door, telling his elder sister Gaurvi that they will join the family in half an hour.
“Ask her to wear green!” Gaurvi and Meera masi didn’t stay at the door and pushed through the door to enter inside, walking past a dumfounded Manik.
To find the bed messed up and her wedding attire on the couch was a positive sight for them. Nandini inside the quilt was another beauty to behold. Finally, the sister and masi were relieved.
Meera masi made secret gestures for Gaurvi who smirked, looking at them. Manik rolled his eyes, “What?”
“What?” Gaurvi shrugged.
“Nothing!!” Meera smirked and walked around in the room.
Manik shifted his sympathetic gaze towards a clueless Nandini and slightly squeezed his eyes to request her to tolerate these two ladies from his family. Nandini acknowledged his helpless looks, simply smiled and lowered her eyes, not because she was coy and blushing, but simply to avoid giggling.
“How are you feeling, kiddo?” Meera asked Nandini.
“Exhausted!” Pat came Nandini’s reply in a soft voice, blushing profusely, giving a totally unwanted meaning to the reply and making the girls giggle. Manik was left flabbergasted at what Nandini had said. He had never expected this and he turned away, to avoid looks from his sister and masi who were totaly enjoying the scene. Nandini pressed her lips softly, blushed hard and looked down, and then there was another bomb from her, “I’m sorry masi, I can’t come out of the quilt to stand and welcome you… err… actually…”
Masi and Gaurvi laughed, cracking secret jokes which Manik didn’t understand but by the looks of Nandini, it appeared that she not only understood them but also enjoyed them and participated too. He folded his hands across his chest with legs defiantly rooted firm on the ground. Fingers of one hand brushed nervously on his lips, wondering what his wife was about to say this time.
They had been surrounding Nandini by now, teasing her, “No worries! We understand… That is why I asked di to not come. We just came to wake you up. Now get ready and join us for some rituals before the breakfast. We need to leave for Lucknow by 12:00 flight.”
“Sure…” Nandini blushed.
Gaurvi reminded her, “Nandini, you need to wear green colour as women in our family wear green on auspicious occasions.”
“Yeah!” Nandini nodded, carefully correcting the quilt around her, making an obvious show of it.
The duo giggled again at that. Manik was known for his sarcastic one liners and angry retorts in his family. But right now, he was left with none. He was the one with short vocabulary, now reduced to zero … so tongue tied, he felt.
Whenever Gaurvi and Meera turned to look at him, he drifted his eyes away, silently praying for this torture to end. It felt extremely awkward to him and he had no idea how to deal with this.
“Manik, I’m so proud of you!” Meera teased him.
“Urgghh!! Can both of you leave already??!” He raised his hands in air and tried to control the awkward outburst.
Gaurvi chuckled.”You can send us away, but what will you do about those dozens of cousins and aunts out there, waiting for their moment of tickle… we are going to add spices and describe the scene here…”
He threw an angry glance at Nandini, who raised her brows with a proud smirk on her lips. She had turned the tables on him. Manik tilted his neck and nodded, threatening her. Nandini twisted her lips accepting the challenge. Without any word spoken, they knew what was coming next.
“Aww… you two need a special puja to ward off evil eyes!” Meera sniggered.
Manik held her hand and then Gaurvi’s hand and pulled them towards the door, and nearly roared, “Masi… and Gayu… out, both of you!”
Both the ladies left, but not before asking him to come soon and before they left, they turned to Nandini and whispered, “Sorry, to disturb your sleep!”
Nandini blushed and whispered back, “No problem. Couldn’t sleep all night!”
The ladies giggled more, obviously happy at having something to tease Manik, leaving Manik flustered. He walked back inside the room, shutting the door and locking it.
Angrily, he marched towards Nandini, who was giggling like a teenager and stepped down from the bed, obviously thrilled after irritating him.
“What was that?” Manik angrily settled his hands on his waist and lifted his chin up to ask.
“What?” Nandini was still giggling.
“I can’t believe it… You actually said ALL that!! What were you thinking?”
“Didn’t you say last night that you were preparing me for an embarrassing teasing session in the morning?” She giggled more and tried to walk past him to go towards the washroom.
He was swift enough to grab her wrist and twisted it slightly, making her whine for a second, followed by another teasing giggle from her, “Manik Malhotra, did you really think you will get away with teasing me and making things difficult for me, last night? You actually teased me left, right and center. Enjoying every bit of it. Now you know how it feels?”
“Goddd!! You are dangerous!!”
“Wait for us to go out and see how your entire family makes your cheeks go red… Awww… that will be such a cute sight…”
“Very funny!” He twisted her wrist for more, so that she was pulled backwards in the process, with her back close to his chest. She became aware of his presence and stopped laughing. Pressing her lips, she slightly struggled to step away from him. But he didn’t relent. He moved an inch closer. This time, his chest was touching her back. His breaths fanned her neck, when he spoke, sending goosebumps through her skin. He whispered in an husky voice, over her hair.
“No one messes with Manik Malhotra. Coz people call me fire. You have no idea how dirty it is going to turn.”
“Bring it on, Malhotra. The fire is pitched against fire, this time.“