Nandini was back to their room and was selecting the outfit to wear for the Grand Reception in the evening. It had to be a big formal function so the dress had to be the designer one, fit for the new bride. It was so confusing. She decided to take help from Meera.
Just then, Manik entered the room. Manik gave good 30 seconds to her face and snapped a finger before her eyes.
“Yeah?” She came back from her trip to the ponder-land. “Did you say something?”
“Where are you lost?”
“Err…” She was about to speak in detail about the fresh new issues in her life like the dress for reception, footwear with respect to rain, accessories for the function and so much more but then she found him smirking. Irked, she nodded, “Nothing!”
He couldn’t stop laughing, “So basically, when you are not talking, you are talking to yourself, inside your head??”
She frowned, “Get lost!!”
That made him laugh out loud. Moving away, towards the washroom, he sighed evidently as a show-off, “Aww…where do I get lost… without my wife…”
He made a cute, adorable pout, “It’s raining so beautifully out there. I asked you for a simple thing and you refused!”
She wanted to explain to him how it would have been awkward for her as being the daughter-in-law and the new bride in the family, the elders and the relatives who had come for their wedding would have been shocked or maybe offended. But she didn’t. She knew that he knew all that and was simply teasing her. In reply, she grinned victoriously, raising one shoulder. “You know, Manik… I AM like that…”
He got that tease in return to what he had told her yesterday that he WAS like that. He scratched his stubble, “Tch… No one ever refuses me…this was shocking…”
“Get ready for more such shocks, mister!! Aww!! Did that ego hurt?? Sorry!!” She sniggered and folded her hands across her chest.
“Don’t be sorry…” He followed the lead, “When you’ve promised to compensate when we are alone…”
She spoke with a puckered brow, thinking deeply, “But??? That’s practically a long term plan, isn’t it??”
“Not really!!” He leaned by the washroom door, pointing towards inside, “If you haven’t noticed, my shower cubicle has a huge shower faucet… you can join me here…”
“Ha!!!” She didn’t expect him to throw this bold a statement. She gave him a shocked, unbelieving, stumped look and quickly recomposed, “I like your optimism, by the way!”
He chuckled as he was clearly teasing her, “I was wondering about that ‘simmering’ thing… it has a lot of sub definitions and conditions…we need to talk, like you said… make more rules…”
This time, she laughed loudly, with a prominent blush on her cheeks, “Like that? Under the shower?”
“What to do? You refuse to join me in the rain… maybe, this could act as a substitute…”
She couldn’t stop laughing. There was no other way to let this silliness pass. Raising her folded hand with a thumb towards him, giving him a ‘thumbs-up’ she said, “Yeah…yeah… amazzingggg!! I like the way you think. Keep dreaming.”
He evidently sighed, once again, making a big show of it, and came back to her. To stand just facing her, not leaving her eyes even for a moment, making her nervous. When he stretched his hand, she almost recoiled, stammering, “Manik…please… dare if you try to drag me inside.”
He smiled warmly, picking up the towel from the chair beside her, “Relax! I will never force you to do anything, if you are not comfortable.”
He didn’t have to assure her for that. She had been a witness to his chivalry since so many days. Yes, he had been rude to her once. But he had been extremely respectful too. He didn’t try to act creepy with her despite sleeping on the same bed. He didn’t try to take undue advantage, touching her or making things difficult for her. In fact, she was surprised that she was practically living in the same room with someone who was a stranger a few weeks back and now she didn’t find it strange or weird at all. The very same thing that freaked her about an arranged marriage. Like his family had accepted her as a part of his life, similarly she had been comfortable with him, ever since they met first, agreed for their marriage and were now together… in fact, feeling inexplicable things she had never felt with anyone before…
Impressed, she had her eyes fixed at him speechlessly, while he continued to speak, “The fact that you’ve never been impulsive regarding intimacy in your earlier relationships says a lot about your self respect… you’ve never given any heed to pressure or desire… to do it just for the heck of it…I value that. So …basically… I wish to be the one who makes you ‘want to do it’…”
With that he left her and disappeared in the washroom. She lowered her face and eyes, blushing hard, unable to avoid the grin. He had no idea how cute he was… He had no idea how he had already raked in so many desires in her… and he had absolutely no idea what a girl meant when she said that the man must make her want to do it…
When there was enough of an attraction between a couple without any pressure of submission and when there was mutual respect and trust… who wouldn’t want to do it…
Nandini was comfortably perched on the bed, giggling on some jokes she read on whatsapp, when Manik walked out of the washroom. He found her complete devotion to her phone at that moment, quite funny.
He walked around to his cupboard and picked up a new white shirt and a three-piece black tux. He removed the trousers from the set and wore it with no attention from Nandini as she appeared to be pretty busy. He didn’t even ask her to leave the room as she was occupied with her phone. Even if she was not, it wasn’t possible to ask the other to leave the room, everytime one changed. They had to find some way out of it.
After he wore his trousers, he slipped on his white shirt and was beginning to button it upwards from the lowermost button, walking towards the mirror when he heard her, from somewhere behind.
“Manik… that’s such a cool tattoo…”
He didn’t move his legs, just twisted his upper body backwards and smirked as if she was unbelievably nosy. “Shamelessly ogling, haan?”
She immediately defended herself, “I was not ogling! I just happened to throw a glance… and noticed that tattoo on your torso…and now I want to see it properly. I just saw a glimpse…
“Forget it…” He was back to buttoning his shirt and pressed his lips, almost avoiding her. He was feeling awkward and she could notice that very clearly. She had seen him shirtless before, but she was so nervous the first time that she didn’t even see him properly and the second time, he had a towel around his neck, hanging down covering half his torso. This was the first time, she saw his chest in complete view and noticed the tattoo but couldn’t see the exact design.
“I want to see it… I didn’t see it properly…” And then she wiggled her brows with a wide grin on her face, “Why are you embarrassed?? That was an awesome one… ‘Om with Trishul’… right? Are you that religious? I mean, Shiva-bhakt and all…”
“It’s a secret!” He laughed.
“Awww…. I want to know!!”
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, sheepishly. This girl knew no bars! Period.
And now he was about to share with her, which he had never told anyone before. With a careless shrug, fighting awkwardness, he said, “Naah… it’s not like that. When I was in IIT Kanpur, I got quite influenced by Shiva Chants which they used to play in the gym…they were so powerful and strong… then, I read a lot about it and mom is still a devout follower, so kinda got influenced with the ‘strength’ …’energy’… and ‘force’ depicted by these symbols and Lord Shiva. I was a gullible teenager so I got the tattoos made…” He laughed nervously with that. “Stupid of me!”
“No… it is not stupid!”
“Is it not??”
Her eyes twinkled, “Come on…It’s cool!”
“Whatever!” He murmured almost to himself. And then whispered, “I know it must be looking silly…”
“It IS NOT silly!!” She spoke confidently and then it slipped out of her mouth before she could stop it, “Even I have tattoos and they are not silly… I’m proud of them!”
Immediately, she realised the blunder, but could do nothing to correct it when he walked back, “Tattoosss???!! Like… in plural??”
She shrugged and turned away, “Forget that I said something!”
“Oh…oh…!! When it comes to others, you have every right to research in detail! When it comes to you – forget it??? Tell me, how many tattoos do you have?”
“5??? Like F.I.V.E – 5 ?”
She raised one shoulder and twisted her lips to accept it.
“Why haven’t I seen any?”
“Because I keep them carefully hidden under my clothes…”
He raised one disbelieving, naughty brow, “My…my!! You are wild… I like that!”
She didn’t reply to that and tried to get up from the bed to go away, before he took a step sideways and blocked her way, “Show me!”
“Are you nuts?”
“Nandu… the way you wanted to see my tattoo… I want to see them too!” He folded his hands.
“Manik… you were flaunting your tattoo… I happened to see it. There is a difference. Like, your tattoo had a secret history… I have my tattoos at ‘secret’ places.” She teased him, making him chuckle.
“You make it sound soooo sexy!!” He scrunched his nose making her giggle nervously. She wanted to walk away, right now. Thankfully, there was a knock on the door, saving her from the tease. He was immediately alarmed. He quickly instructed her, “Listen, if mom or masi ask about me, tell them that I am downstairs with Akhil or say whatever comes to your mind…”
“But why will I lie?” She asked innocently.
“Mom wants me to go and pick up mom’s friend, Jayshree aunty…and I don’t want to go to her home…If I’m not available, she will send someone else with the driver…”
The knock repeated with ma calling her, “Nandini…”
Nandini made a confused expression, “What’s the story… tell me in short!”
In quick sequence of rapid sentences, he explained, “Nothing major…she is a silly woman who talks, talks, talks about her life, her wardrobe, her NGO… she loves to touch while she talks… she pulls my cheeks like a baby…uff… please tell them that I’m not here!”
“What if she comes inside?”
Manik rushed towards the washroom, “I’ll hide there… and…” He pointed his index finger as a threat, “No badmaashi, haan??”
“Do I look like someone who is always up to a mischief??” She frowned and went to open the door, where Ma was standing, with a big packet in her hand.
“Nandini, where is Manik?” Ma asked walking inside the room. Manik was inside the washroom, praying that Nandini behaved properly and didn’t mess with the situation.
Nandini replied, in a soft, pleasing voice, “Ma… I don’t know… He went down. I thought he was with you!”
Manik smiled at that. She was not that mischievous, afterall. She had saved him and kept his secret. He heaved a sigh of relief, “Phewww!”
“Okay… I’ll check downstairs. He must be with Gaurvi or Akhil. By the way, you need to start getting ready for the evening. Later, Meera will come and take you to the parlour for light makeup and hairdo…”
Nandini hesitated, “Ma, I’m not very comfortable with make-up.”
“I know, beta!” Latika spoke patiently, “But, it’s a big function…there will be flashes and strong lights, photography, videos etc… you must go for some basics…I’ve asked the beautician to keep it light and simple for you!”
Nandini nodded, pressing her lips. It was okay to agree with elders, once in a while.
“Oh, by the way…this is the gown, we got designed for you… I know it is a little flashy… compared to your style, but as it is a Grand Reception… so just wear it for a few hours!”
Nandini nodded, taking the packet from her. At least, her worry about the dress was solved. She was relieved, but only till Latika dropped the huge bomb, just the next moment. “Your wedding was fixed in such less time. We didn’t get time to choose properly…I hope you like the design… okay the designer is downstairs, dealing with last moment fitting for others. Just change into it and let me know if it is fine!”
Nandini raised her brow as if she heard something wrong. “Do what?????”
Confused, Latika repeated, “Go and wear it!! I’ll be here and I’ll see if you need any fitting changes…”
With a heart beating hard, and dried mouth, Nandini stammered, “Ma… err… if you … go downstairs… I’ll change here… and give you a call… err.. if I…”
“No..no..” Latika sat down on her bed, “I have other works to do and the designer might leave, if you delay… I want to make sure that all goes well, at least with your dress…”
This made Nandini speechless and Manik smirk. This was going to be epic!!
Meera entered the room. “Di, you are here?? I was searching for you all over the house!”
“I was asking Nandini to show me the fitting of her gown so that we get it finished for her!”
“That’s a good idea…” Meera echoed, and sat down on the chair facing Latika, too excited with the news she had in her kitty, “Di… I was searching you to tell you about a spicy gossiip… err… Nandini, why are you standing here like a statue?? Go inside the washroom and change!!”
Meera was back to sharing her gossip piece with Latika, leaving Nandini stiffened due to tension. She felt as if she was drenched in sweat and her feet were stuck in six inches of mud. She collected the packet with her dress and dragged herself to walk inside the washroom, clearly expecting Manik there. Rested by a slab, legs crossed and tongue in cheek… totally unable to hide his glee…
She frowned, pretended to cry and closed the door behind her. They could hear ma and masi busy in their gossip, giggling like teenagers. Manik pretended to stretch his hands outwards, and lifted the sleeves of his shirt at his forearms as he whispered in a husky tease.
“So??? We were talking about secret tattoos!! Right???”