The factory visit to meet the employees and distribute sweets to them, was followed by lunch and then back to Malhotra mansion.
Manik asked his cousins, “Anyone up for a match of football?”
His cousins jumped at the idea. They were nearly five boys of different ages… the girls were allowed too, so it made them eleven. Akhil and Gaurvi wanted to play too… Finally, they formed a good team and the backyard area of Malhotra house was selected for the game. It had a huge expanse of space.
Latika asked Nandini to take rest, “If you want, you can go up and relax, beta. You must be tired.”
“I’m fine, ma…” Nandini replied with an endearing smile. She wanted to watch the game. She wanted to watch Manik play.
Latika patted her cheek, “Your wish, if you want to be here. I’m going to my room to take an afternoon nap. I’m tired. We have a big function… a major Reception in the evening. We’ve invited our friends, business associates, prominent dignitaries in the ministry and office contacts in Lucknow, Manik’s teachers, old school friends and who’s who of Lucknow… basically the formal guests are invited today. Yesterday, it was all about relatives. Today evening is the formal Reception.”
Nandini forced a smile and crackled her neck. She could feel her back aching already.
Manik, his cousins and sisters were deciding on the teams. It was still time for the game to begin. Meera sat down in the covered foyer before the backyard to see the game, asking the helpers to make tea for them. Nandini asked her, “Masi, can I go and change into something comfortable?”
“Yes, yes!!! Go and wear a suit or something… get rid of this saree… you have to stand for long in the evening too!”
With a plan to change into a comfortable kurti and leggings, Nandini went up to their room. At the top stairs, she heard footsteps behind her. Before she could turn, she found Manik catching up.
“Going back, Murthy! Not interested in our game?” He asked with a soft grin on his adorable face. With that he pushed through the door of the room and walked ahead.
He had a distinct swag and she enjoyed the smug air, he carried around with him… all full of himself, yet so considerate about everyone else; proud of his degrees and achievements, without degrading others; confident of his attitude and the steps he took, still waiting for people to give their consent… like in their case… Her respect for him grew everyday as even after being attracted to her, he didn’t try to force himself on her, despite sleeping on the same bed…not even once did he try to coax her into doing something she didn’t want to… Instead, he asked her opinion about what should be done about the fiery chemistry between them and was willing to wait when she suggested for them to wait…
How he noticed when she was tired and took efforts to reduce it… how he asked her if she was fine… how he asked her to do what she felt like… how he always knew what she wanted…
She followed behind, murmuring in a low voice, “How can I miss your game… I’ll be there… I came back to change…”
“Me too!” He chuckled and quickly opened his cupboard to get a polo neck tee and shorts. His shirt and trousers were too formal for sports. Quickly, he rushed inside the washroom and got changed in a jiffy.
She untied her braid that she had tied in the morning, running her fingers inside the long curls of her hair, removed all the jewellery and unpinned her saree, clearly feeling different and pretty to herself. She had never taken care of her attire, or hair or jewellery ever in her life. It felt different. It felt gorgeous. She let the end of saree flow freely in air, oblivious to the fact that he was standing right behind her, observing her cute antics and her giggles.
He approached her from behind and asked in a husky whisper, “So… how much time do you think, you are going to take to reach the backyard…?”
“10 minutes? Probably !! Why?” She asked, turning sideways.
He moved out of the room, “Come down soon… the game won’t start till you reach!”
She was thrilled when he said that… she blushed and fiddled with her clothes and shuddered to get rid of this new sensation in her body… and Now… She was purposefully going to spend more time when he told her THIS!!
She loved to tease him and to see his face, sporting a helpless expression before his sisters, cousins and masi should be fun! She imagined him getting teased because of her. This made her giggle as she took off her saree and wore a sea green ankle length kurti and denim jeggings. Beautifully, she slid sea green and diamond bangles in her hands, glittering long diamond ear rings and layered it with a woven net stole over it.
Almost after half an hour, she catwalked down the stairs and took lazy, easy steps towards the backyard. The teams were decided, the goal posts were set, the areas were demarcated and the referee Meera masi had been scolding them why the game hadn’t started.
When Nandini walked into the backyard, she found Manik leaning along a pillar, looking like true blue sportsman in white tee shirt and denim shorts, aviators on his eyes and hands folded. He had been tapping his feet on the grass impatiently.
Nandini asked seriously, “What happened?? Is the game over??”
Akhil replied, “Manik wanted us to wait as the Sun was too high…”
“Really?” Nandini made a canopy of her hand on her eyes and looked up to spot the Sun.
Manik looked at her and gave her a killer stare, making her giggle. Then, he took the ball to the ground and signalled Meera masi to be the referee. Meera was the smartest one, “I told you guys, he won’t start until Nandini comes…”
Manik spread his hands sideways in air, when he saw his cousins giggling. “Whatever!!” Nandini blushed and went and sat beside Meera. Meera chirped, “Am I wrong??”
Nandini nodded and giggled more with that. Meera loved how Nandini was so easy to get along well with. She said, “I am the only referee in the world, who doesn’t go inside the ground…by the way, do you know the rules of the game?”
Nandini nodded to refuse. Meera joked, “Me neither!”
“But you are the referee… how do you decide…”
“Decide nothing… I just follow Manik… whatever he says is right!” Meera laughed, making Nandini giggle cutely, “Very bad. Why does Manik get all the power!”
“If you don’t know what to do in a situation, then the one who knows gets the upper hand!” Meera wiggled her brows.
Nandini gave an animated expression squeezing her eyes, like she understood the hidden meaning, “Oooohhhhh!!! Like that??”
Meera giggled, “Yes, like that, my dear! Always try to be sure about what you want. Otherwise, the competitor, who knows the game, goes by his way, by default.”
Nandini nodded to agree to her and that reminded her of Manik. He was so sure about what he wanted and what he didn’t. Unlike her! She was sure too, at a lot of places, but wasn’t aggressive about it. She had a casual approach towards things with a hope that things will turn her way.
She threw a glance at the arena, where the game was on… with her eyes only on Manik. Manik had been energetic and swift like a tornado, running from one end of the garden to another, shouting directions to youngsters, clapping with a good shot, completely absorbed in the game and with an unmatched hold on the ball.
And then something happened. As if on cue, he switched his move and suddenly turned to look at her, leaving her stunned…leaving her with no time to turn away…
That she had been lost in observing him, was clearly evident to him now. She blushed and scrunched her nose before she turned her eyes away. After some time, when her eyes sought him, she found his eyes on her, and it happened after every few minutes. This time, he teasingly smirked and winked, before he ran to the opposite side, securing a goal.
Manik’s side had been winning, when it started raining, spoiling all the game. The boys were not too happy. Girls followed the kids who ran inwards with their mothers to get changed. Manik, Akhil, Gaurvi and two of their teenaged cousins preferred to stay on the ground… getting drenched in the rain… playing… pulling each other’s legs and cracking jokes…
It was a lovely scene to behold with cousins at complete ease with each other, reminding Nandini of her own joint family. She missed her cousins with whom she shared a warm bond. Seeing Manik bonding with his cousins was such an alluring sight. Once again, she was lost in her own thoughts observing the group, and incidently she was the only one there in the covered foyer. Meera had gone inside with some kids to help them.
He looked ravishing when he was drenched in the rain. His white tee shirt sticking to his body, giving her a good glimpse of his perfectly chiseled abs and toned torso. His denim shorts, heavy and soggy due to absorbing water, resting lazily on his lower abs, his toned calves, his hair dripping fine droplets of water over his face, which he wiped with one hand.
Leaving Akhil, Gaurvi, Purvi and Shubham cracking jokes, Manik turned to Nandini, who was observing them with a distinct longing in her eyes. Something about that ‘look’ on her face tugged at Manik’s heart, for he was left observing her. Nandini’s attention was distracted and she grinned. With a subtle move to his chin upwards and a raise of brows, he seemed to ask her what she was thinking. She nodded in a ‘nothing’ and grinned.
He turned around to make sure that they were not being noticed, and when he was sure that rest of the lot were busy with themselves, he stared at her for one more time, but with an increased warmth. He blinked once to ask her to join him in the rain. Akhil and Gaurvi were laughing at their own incident that they recalled from the past… Purvi and Shubham played a match of raising the muddy puddle by jumping in it and Manik was standing with his one hand on his waist and one wiping the droplets of water, eyes fixed on Nandini.
Nervousness took over making Nandini wet her dry lips by taking them inside her mouth. She could feel her entire body stiffening when he asked her to step in the rain. She nodded side to side and refused. He grinned and almost sprinted towards her. Startled, she stood up from the chair she was perched and made a dash towards inside. But too late.
He reached her within few seconds, thanks to those agile long legs and held her wrist before she could leave the porch. She nervously chuckled and tried to retrieve her hand but in vain. She was unable to believe it that he did that. His strong hold on her wrist was firm and determined. He was about to drag her in the rain, to get her as drenched as he was…
She was bleeding red on the cheeks right now. It was going to be super embarrassing when they returned to their room… to cross the entire house, dripping water through their clothes… She was the new bride and that was an additional concern, something that made her a candidate to show the best behaviour at her in-laws house, at least in the beginning… it wasn’t Mumbai or her college, where she used to be ‘bindaas’… Priyanka masi had clearly laid down the do’s and don’t’s of the rule book… and it wasn’t the best of behaviour…
“Manik…” She tried to stop him.
“Come on, Nandu…be a sport…”
“No… I can’t…”
“Why?” He pulled her hand towards him so that she was brought closer. The fact that he was completely wet dawned on her when she was so close to him that she could feel the water droplets on her hair, face and hands. The water droplets that left him and touched her at a short distance above her due to his height.
He peered into her eyes, raised above to meet his… She was too shocked to blush right now…
“Are you crazy?” She almost chided him, “I can’t get wet with you…”
She realised how idiotic was the statement when she found him laughing loudly. She huffed and glared at him angrily, “All your fault… you can actually make me speak nonsense…”
He spoke, appearing to be thinking, “Err… Nandini Murthy… If I remember well, you do speak nonsense, a lot of times… stop blaming it to be my effect on you!”
“Ever since I met you first, I began speaking nonsense…and every time, it is because of you… and now… I don’t want you near me… “
“Sure?” He asked in a husky baritone, with a small, simple word enough to send crazy signals to her body.
“Yeahhh…” She spoke, tilting her neck slightly, rolling her eyes.
“That ‘yeaahhh’ is so weak…make it a bit stronger… for you don’t appear sure that you don’t me near and around you…”
She wasn’t going to lose her stand. She knew what she wanted and what she didn’t. “YEAH!!! Better now??? And why are you asking again and again, if I’m sure or not… and what do you even mean by that? That it’s me who wants you near me… because you are seriously mistaken… I don’t…”
She stopped speaking when he shushed her with a simple movement of lips and tongue and some air trapped between them.
“How do you talk so much? Where do you find these words?” He spoke, frowning to show how confused he became when she talked.
“Sometimes, I wonder the same about you…how do you do that…manage with such few words and some sounds?? Don’t you get suffocated…”
He laughed, “Be thankful that you actually heard me talking so much. A lot of my cousins and school friends don’t even know how I sound…”
“Was that a joke? Am I supposed to laugh at that?!” She gave him a bored look, making him chuckle louder. With another twist of her lips, she worked her fingers over his grip and moved his fingers away from his wrist. He was a tough nut with a tough grip.
Finally, when she saw Akhil, Gaurvi and his cousins giving them teasing looks from a distance, she requested, “Please, let me go…”
“So, you refuse to feel that rush of flow of water over you…” He suggested her to follow him in the rain.
“I’ve felt that many times… I’ve loved rainfall and enjoyed it…”
He wasn’t smirking, chuckling or joking anymore. In a serious, husky voice, he whispered, “Not with me…”
From his hand around her wrist, her eyes shifted to his face, “It can wait…”
“Like rest of the feels?”
“Maybe…” She shrugged with a whisper, removing her eyes from him.
“Not today? Then? When?”
“When we are alone…” She didn’t even know what she was saying and where it was leading. She just wanted to avoid this embarrassing situation, before some elders or Meera came back.
“You have to promise.”
“I promise!! Please let me go…and, we will talk about…”
“About what?” He whispered
She blushed, and murmured softly, avoiding his heated gaze on her pretty face,”Err… Those feels between us!”
“We have already spoken about it!”
“No! There is so much more… so much unspoken …”
“Not everything needs to be spoken…” He freed her hand and she blushed more this time, as she slipped out of his hold and ran away inside, leaving him to chuckle at the mortified look she gave him.