“You want to do something to prove it?”
“Yeahhhh!!” She nodded cutely.
In a real serious tone, trying not to intimidate or force her, he requested. “Then stay with me in this room. Choose my room!”
She grinned and teased him, “You missed a chance, Malhotra! You could’ve asked for something else… as I didn’t even consider the other room… not even once!!”
“Whaaat??!!!” He was surprised as he adoringly studied her face, “And I was so worried…I almost thought that you will take the other room…”
“It was ‘me’ who was worried. I almost thought that you wanted me to take the other room. You were so sure of us living in 2 separate rooms, when you told me about it in Lucknow!”
He grinned sheepishly, almost struggling to get words, “In Lucknow… I said that when we were… errmm… living like strangers. I mean, we were struggling for privacy and we were not sure if we would…” He stopped speaking when he didn’t find proper words. So he just took a deep breath with a subtle tilt of his head.
She smiled, suggesting what he meant to say, “We were not sure if we would give in to temptations??”
“Exactly!!!!” He agreed, reducing the gaps between them, bringing closer the arms curled around her. He rested his forehead over her. “There is no point staying in different rooms, now!”
Her hand moved softly over his shirt. Fingertip of her first finger circled the first button of his shirt, “Manik…”
Teasingly, she asked, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
With a chuckle, he replied, “No. I’m keeping the count. It’s 7 till now.”
She laughed like a baby and touched her forehead at the space below his throat. He continued, evidently thrilled, “Initially, I began to lose track when we started arguing. But then I remembered that mom used to say – never bargain for losses even if you are angry or upset. Bad moods last for a short time, but a loss remains a loss, always!”
“Interesting!” She chirped, “And, I thought you didn’t appreciate advices!!”
“Who wouldn’t take such an advice?”
With his first finger and thumb, he raised her chin to turn her face up. Her deep brown eyes locked to his hazel ones. His lowered lips and ragged breaths were enough to speak of his intentions. She blushed and lowered her eyelids, letting her long eyelashes fan out over the soft cheeks, as if they were petals of white roses. His thumb left her chin to trace the margins of her upper lip, making her shudder at the softness of his thumb pad brushing across both her lips. Involuntarily, her lips parted, and her face inched up towards him. He smirked softly. He had almost the similar effect on her as she had on him. Even if she hadn’t confessed verbally, each part of her body declared, loud and clear, how everything between them as insanely mutual.
He took a deep breath, to lower further and was about to kiss her when his phone rang, breaking the spell they were both bound with.
“Damnnnn!”He retrieved his phone from his trouser pocket. She waited for him to check the phone with her eyes turned away and lips pressed together.
He read the caller’s name and in an irked voice, he said, “I guess, I’ll have to take it!”
“Go ahead!” She whispered so softly that it was lost in the surrounding air. With a shy smile, she nodded to shrug off the tension that had just build up between them. She took a step away, but he held her wrist and pulled her back with a quick whisper on her cheek, “We will continue…” She blushed more and walked away to bring the luggage inside the bedroom, while he answered the phone.
By the gaps between his words and by the one sided conversation he had with someone, she could figure it that he was shocked and worried at the turn of events while he was away.
“Just 2 days leave I take and you guys begin to ruin everything… I know what happened till Friday… then the office was closed for the weekend… how come so much happened since morning… it’s just Monday, dude!… Okay… Hang on! … listen to me… Don’t go for the meeting… I’ll take it from here… wait … and tell them, I’ll be there tomorrow… just avoid it for today…yeahh…yeahh… tell her to call me… “
Manik sat on the bed, tapping his phone over the palm of one hand, eyes focused on the ground, swaying his jaw impatiently. Nandini settled the luggage in one corner of the bed room and stood still in that corner, slightly away from him.
She was aware that he hated interference. He hated being advised. He hated being asked questions. And he had specifically told her that he could handle his issues on his own and ALSO specifically asked her to mind her own business.
What she didn’t know was, how to do that?? How to ignore when someone you care for, is worried and you see him helpless, right before your eyes. She contemplated about asking him about what troubled him, but then his possible reply or response scared her. She didn’t want to offend him. First, she dropped the idea, then, she wondered if it was okay to say something hinting about it, but then dropped it again. When she didn’t know how to let him know that she was with him in this, without appearing interfering, she simply cleared her throat.
He was distracted. He raised his eyelids only and looked at her. She didn’t speak anything but ran her tongue along her dried upper lip. He shrugged.
“I think… ” She couldn’t stop herself. “I think… you should go…”
He dismissed it, running his fingers in his hair, “Naaahhh!!! I’ll manage from here…”
She leaned her back by the wall behind her, scraping the floor with her shoe, “You don’t want to leave me, alone… here?”
“It’s not that…”
She interrupted him, “See, you can’t stay at home everyday. Tomorrow, you have to go. So, why not today? I know that your heart and mind are in office, right now. What good will you do here, instead of worrying and fretting?”
He stood up, nodded and dismissed it completely, “No…no…no..no!! It’s your first day in Bangalore, Nandini… new city…new home… new neighbourhood… I can’t leave you alone!”
She smiled proudly, “You have no idea how well I can manage myself! Come on… it’s just few hours and I wouldn’t have insisted if it wasn’t that bad there… I mean, it appears so from your … forget it… I meant to say that since our wedding, some or the other issue at office, is troubling you!”
He frowned, chewed the bottom lip and asked straight, “You will be fine, right?”
“Absolutely!” She smiled.
He held her shoulders in a warm grip, softly yet so assuringly, “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Hmm!” She nodded confidently.
“And… you give me a call, if even for a moment, you feel lost!”
As an afterthought, he nodded frantically and dismissed it again. “No!! I shouldn’t go… forget it!”
“Manik… It’s not like you can make me feel at home, in one day. I will take my own time to get familiar with the city, neigbourhood and home. Even if you stay here for today, tomorrow morning you HAVE to go!”
He was confused, “Why are you doing this? Girls don’t do this. Girls play victim if men leave them for work. Girls cry and wail in self pity how the monster left them and didn’t care enough. I don’t want you to feel like that. And leave other girls, I don’t WANT to leave you, in fact… I want to be there to see that you are fine…”
She laughed when he went on talking. Tilting her hand, she tip toed and placed her entire palm on his mouth sideways, “Manik…stop!!! You need to remember 2 things, all the time… One, you talk so much when you are confused. I know you want to be there for me. Thanks… but no thanks!!!!”
He raised his brows to ask about the second thing.
She frowned, pursed her lips for once, trying to pretend to be super irked, and spoke in strong words, one word at a time, stressing on each, “Two… You, Malhotra… know NOTHING about girls!!! So Shut Up !!! And stop generalising and insulting all girls by trying to fit us all in ONE box!!! GOT IT???”
He nodded, up and down first and then slightly sideways, implying that he understood it. His eyes were still opened wide, unable to digest the whole situation. He cleared his throat. She removed her hand from his mouth and smiled, “Go now!!”
He sheepishly took his lips in, stuffed his phone in his pocket and picked up the car keys from his table. He walked towards the door of the bedroom and before leaving the room, he turned back and said, “Sorry!! I will take care in future…” Then he observed her, from top to bottom and said, “I guess, you are right. I know NOTHING about girls!”
She chuckled and he grinned at the way he said that. He took a step ahead, turned again and said, “I’ll be back soon!”
“Okay!” She shrugged, as if didn’t matter even if he took more time. It was work afterall.
He tapped his fingers on the bedroom door that he had held, still unsure if he was doing right, “Thanks! I’ll see how early I can manage this stupid meeting, the CEO wants to call in my absence to change the design of the campaign.”
“But… how can they do that. You were away for your wedding!”
“They don’t know about that!” He shrugged lightly.
“What??!!! You didn’t take the wedding leave?”
“No! I just took 3 days casual leave – Thursday, Friday and Monday!”
“You told no one about our marriage??” She opened her mouth, almost shocked.
He shrugged as if it was a weird, unrequired question, “Only my friends!! Why?? Did I have to inform the entire office?”
“The CEO? The MD? Your colleagues? You didn’t even invite them?” She was surprised.
“Why will I invite them??” He was as surprised as she was, “Nandu, they are my colleagues. Not my friends. I invited close friends, but even they didn’t come as they were busy and it’s cool!!”
With her right hand, she held her head as if she was about to faint, “Myyyy God!! I always thought that colleagues are friends too… We work together, right?? So we are friends with them!!!”
He laughed at her innocence, “I know that!! You took me to that colleagues wedding who has ONLY ONE friend in Mumbai!”
“Don’t laugh, Manik!!… She was so happy when we went there. Don’t you remember, she came for our wedding too. With her husband. And I wouldn’t have been ‘cool’ if any of my friends or colleagues didn’t come for the wedding. Everyone came for our marriage!”
“It doesn’t happen like that in ‘my world’…”He grinned and started walking towards the main door, speaking as if enjoying the scenario
“Ahh!! What a pity! That world ‘now’ has merged with ‘my world’…”
“So, you better learn my ways!!” He teased her.
“In your dreams!! It’s either my way or high way!”
He laughed loudly, “Is there any one thing where we think similarly?? Like, whatever we discuss, I hold one opinion and you have an entire opposite one to that!!”
She rolled her eyes and followed him, “And we don’t even know much about each other, yet!! We are yet to discover sooooo much about each other! I’m sure we’ll clash at every level!”
“Imagine, what a blast it will be when we talk more about our lives…” He teased her, “We knew about it, right??? We had talked so much before marriage? We knew how different we are… at every thing!! Still we did it!!”
She teased him back. “Just because, you promised that you will stay away from me. That was what you said when you proposed marriage. You wanted us to stay aloof… not interfere with each other…”
“I need to remind myself to follow that rule, before we mess up!”
She laughed, “Ha!! We have already messed up!! By the way, who was the one?? Talking about ‘feels’ and all…Accept it, that you couldn’t stay away from me…No one can ignore Nandini Murthy!”
Totally enjoying her way of teasing him, he chuckled more, spreading his hands in air, “Okay! I goofed up!! But at least, I tried to stay sane about it. I tried to find some logic … some reason…How do parents match the ‘rishta’… I’m yet to understand… It seems, in EVERY thing, you are North pole and I am South pole…”
“That’s true!! Otherwise, why would we attract each other so much?!!!” She spoke thoughtfully, deeply.
She held the main door before he walked out. He turned yet again, just inside the door, right before opening it and stopped for a moment, trying to absorb some calmness, some tranquility from her. She was that still water in the pond, where a wandering soul would love to meditate. She was that soothing breeze in the mountains, which could rejuvenate a dying soul. She was a calming silence in the noise of the ruthless world. He shrugged that silly thought away and sighed.
“Oh yes… speaking of attraction… the count is now 10.”
She blushed, “My mom had a piece of advice too!”
“And what was that?”
“That – it’s not good to keep any task pending!”
Surprised and almost thrilled, he smiled and bent his neck. A deep, wet, longggiiishh smooch on her lips followed, making her curl her toes. She quickly kissed him back and separated him by a gentle shove, “Go now…”
She giggled at that and tucked her back to the wall beside the door. He took another step outwards, holding the door and for the last time, he turned again. She raised her brows to know why he stopped again. “What happened?”
“Actually… the MD is already pissed off at me for losing that project about which Cabir spoke that day. Now, we are yet to meet a deadline this week, by Saturday and though my work is mostly done, the CEO is playing politics with design people to sabotage the entire project so that I can be thrown out. It’s office politics and some misunderstandings!”
She folded her hands across her chest and grinned warmly. Manik Malhotra was sharing something with her! This was unexpected!!!
In an understanding, calm voice, she said, “I don’t know much about you, Manik. But, gut feeling tells me that you are a man of integrity and honesty. These two things go a long way in professional set up. I know that you will manage things in your favour.”
This simple sentence elated him. Mighty impressed, he asked, “You think so?”
She shrugged as if there wasn’t even an iota of doubt about that. “Of course! I’m sure of that.”
“By the way… the count is back to 10!”