“Without a trace of doubt… I’ll follow you wherever you go!”
She was visibly elated when he said that. Her lips curved in a huge smile and then she grinned ear to ear. Her smile was precious for him. He could trade it for nothing in the world.
“Happy?” He sighed, pulling her closer to him, unable to resist the fragrance near her neck.
“Thrilled!” She chirped and nodded sweetly. “Shall we move?”
“Aww!! Why do we have to go?” He winced and left her reluctantly.
She giggled and pinned her saree, “I should be saying that. It’s your MD’s party and I don’t know anyone there. I don’t know how to behave.”
“Just be yourself!”
He gave her a simple advice. She turned to him holding her bronze tote bag and found him assuring her with a blink of his eyes. She smiled in response, just as warmly as him.
“You make everything sound so simple!”
“Things are usually simple, sweetheart! We complicate it!” He spoke it, just so casually that he probably didn’t even register it in his mind, and walked out of the room. But for her, it was huge!!
He had called her … what??!! … Sweetheart???!!
Did he even realise? Did he even remember? Or did he register what he had just addressed her as???
She had goosebumps all over her arms and she felt her central spine at the lower back stiffening due to a weird mushy feeling. It was so precious for her.
She couldn’t let him forget it… or let it pass, as if nothing happened… no…. no… it was special and he had to know… he had to remember… he had to cherish it like she did…
She rushed out of the room, following him. He was wearing his shoes, ever so casually and stood up, “Ready??”
“Manik… What did you say just now?” She was so thrilled that she couldn’t hide the subtle flicker of changing expressions on her face, coupled with a glorious blush. Her gait was edgy and she was clutching her tote bag, tightly.
He observed her from top to bottom and then raised his brow with a slightly confused smirk, wondering what excited her so much, “Err… I asked… if you are ready?”
“Nooooo!!! Just before that??” She raised her brows, trying to remind him, “Just before leaving the room!”
He rolled his eyes, trying to remember and then moving towards the exit door, he said, “That ‘we make things complicated’…?”
“Before that?” She grinned.
“Mmm!!??” He focused more to think and turned towards her, just inside the door, right before opening it, “That – ‘things are usually simple’??”
“No, we are not going out unless you remember what you just said…” She closed the door again, like a baby at mischief… Edgy, quirky and utterly cute. He was loving it.
“Whaaaaaat? What is it?” He leaned by the closed door, his back tucked to it, foot upturned to rest on the door at the back.
She smirked, teasing him, “You have to tell me… you said something… just before you left the room … between the two sentences that you just told me!”
He frowned and squeezed his eyes hard trying to remember it, rolling his tongue along the length of his gums. Throwing a breath out with much effort, he upturned his lips. She waited for him and wiggled her brows, making a pout.
With a subtle smile, he leaned forwards towards her and lifted up a teasing brow, “Sweetheart??!!”
She couldn’t stop grinning, “Was it a slip of tongue or was it intentional?”
He held her waist and pulled her closer, aiming for her lips and closing the gaps between them. He asked in a soft whisper, “What do you prefer?”
She quickly placed her hand before her lips, “You need to guess yourself what I prefer, now that I almost forced you to remember it!! And No… we are not kissing… I’m not letting you spoil my lipshade!”
For a moment, he looked at her as if seeing a museum specimen for the first time. He rolled his eyes and yawned, leaving her waist. And then, clicked his tongue, with a dismissal, “Thanks for reminding about that lipshade. I hate it’s taste!”
This time, she was shocked, looking at him in disbelief. “Liar! You never told me about it, before!”
“I was about to do so…,” He smirked teasing her all over again and opened the main door. When they walked out, he turned to lock it.
At the same time, they saw Dhruv locking his door. Manik and Dhruv exchanged awkward glances and didn’t speak anything. Nandini smiled warmly and said, “Hey Dhruv!”
Dhruv sighed painfully and pressed the elevator button, “Hello, Nandini!”
He threw an angry glance at Manik and before Manik could say something, he entered the elevator and closed it, without waiting for them.
When he left, Nandini burst into a sweet laughter. Manik raised his hands sideways in air questioningly and asked, “My friend is not talking to me and you find it funny?”
She giggled and held his elbow, as they waited for the second elevator to arrive at their floor and replied, “No!! Think about this… isn’t it funny that Dhruv is throwing such a big attitude while he is going to attend a party … which is meant for what? Welcoming us??? Such an irony!”
He didn’t find it amusing and opened his mouth, swaying his jaw, side to side. This made her giggle more, “I don’t know about you, but normal people may find it funny. And, one more thing, he has to go a long way to prove if he is really your friend!”
This time, he sincerely looked at her face, trying to grasp what she just said. She had stopped laughing, by now. They entered the lift and pressed the button for the ground floor, while she continued, “I’m serious. This is not how friends behave. And if they do, you don’t need such friends.”
“Hmm!” He didn’t add to it but knew that she was right. Dhruv had been behaving like a jerk and needed a reality check asap.
Nandini said, “Let’s hope he gets some senses.”
“Please don’t go and talk to him, now!” It wasn’t a polite request from him. It was a sarcastic warning, knowing how nosy she was.
Offended, she glared at him, “You know … I have much better things in life to do than sorting out your relationships… Es…pe…cially… when you DON’T need my help in anything!”
Her cuteness overshadowed her anger and that was even more cuter. He laughed, “Okay baba, don’t get annoyed. I’m sorry!”
“Better!” She huffed and fluttered her lashes, as if she couldn’t care more.
“It’s just that I’ve tried talking to him, twice…and he behaved like a joker… and now if you go and talk to him, he might think that I’ve sent you as a peace messenger!” He spoke, as they walked out of the elevator.
She smiled, “Relax! I will never embarrass you! In front of anyone!!”
This, one sentence, from her was warm and consoling to a superlative degree. He was left captivated at that subtle assurance… A promise that said that she was going to trust his decisions and won’t make him feel low before others.. A bond that said that his dear wife was always going to be by his side whenever he stepped ahead to take a stand about what he believed in… He couldn’t have asked for more!
The party was held at MD’s Bungalow at one of the posh areas of Sadashiva Nagar. The large 4000 square yard area property was lined by trees on all sides.
“Such big house?” She opened her mouth when the watchmen directed them towards the parking area.
“Don’t get intimidated. MD and his wife are simple people. They are fond of holding parties every now and then. Their kids stay abroad so they get bored and find amusement in such entertainment!” He informed her to make her feel relaxed.
It was a huge expanse of the garden area where the party was arranged. Manik subtly rested his hand behind her lower back in a protective touch and to usher her in. She folded her hands to greet the MD, Mr. Gautham Jain and his wife Sharmila Jain, an elderly couple of late sixties. As Manik had told her, they were simple, nice people with down to earth values and kind nature.
Sharmila complimented Nandini about her saree and her skin. Told her how pretty she looked. Also, welcomed her to Bangalore and being a part of the Phoenix group. Gautham welcomed them too and asked Manik to be comfortable and introduce Nandini to rest of the staff who were there to welcome them.
“Nice people! I loved them.” Nandini was immediately at home when she was greeted this warmly.
“Told you so!” He smiled lovingly and then he added, “Don’t get carried away. Not everyone is like them. Shobha Diwan and her punters hate me. The entire office staff is nearly divided in two groups. One against me and the other, with me. So…”
“So! I’ll take care!” She blinked once and relieved him. He sighed, slightly releasing a small bout of air. His Universe was right there, next to him. Everything else, everyone else was meaningless, now.
Shobha Diwan stepped ahead and gave her a bouquet of roses, wished them so warmly, laughed so much and cracked jokes that for a moment, Nandini was confused if she was the same monster, her husband and his friends kept talking about. She was followed by other officials, marketing head, expansions team head, media design heads and so on.
Dhruv also met them cordially, smiled lightly and wished them, just to show off to Gautham sir. Or else, a few hours before at their apartment, he had ignored them so royally. Manik didn’t get good vibes from him. His supporters and Shobha’s gang too was around. It was now getting slightly overboard now and Manik was getting worried if Nandini would get overwhelmed or what if, someone said something stupid to her.
Thankfully, the crowd behaved civilized. It was MD’s house and they were trying to be at their best. Still, Manik was worried.
His eyes were constantly on Nandini, even when she slightly stepped away with other women. She was aware of that because whenever she turned her eyes to look at him, their eyes met. Her confident, yet slightly uneasy eyes talked to his assuring, adoring ones and were relieved.
He didn’t have to worry much and he heaved a sigh of relief when he saw Mukti and Alya coming inside the party. They immediately spotted them and approached to talk to the couple newly married. They had to catch up with Nandini about how her life was going in last two weeks. Nandini was excited to meet them too. Manik was about to leave the girls to gossip and mingle with others when he was shocked to find Cabir too, coming inside the party.
“Cabir!!!” Manik was left dumb-founded. Rest echoed with him when Cabir stepped ahead and hugged Manik and did a hi-five with Mukti and Alya.
“So?? Missed me???” Cabir spread his hands in air, asking with a smug tone.
“No one!” Everyone teased him and then when they stopped, Nandini spoke, “But, I missed you, Cabir!”
Cabir smirked and lifted a suspicious brow, “Why do I smell danger? Why did you miss me, Nandini?”
She touched Manik’s elbow as she said ‘we’ and then spoke to Cabir, “We are going out of town tomorrow and we were hoping for you to come back and take care of Dobby!”
“Whoa!! Whoaaaa….wait!!” Cabir was surprised, “Arrey bhai, why will I take care of him?”
“He likes you. You helped with name selection. So, he is now your pet…too…”
Manik turned to look at Nandini and stopped her from speaking more raising his hand in air to stop her, “Oh..hello!! Pet??? He is not our pet!”
Nandini smiled sweetly and curled her hand around Manik’s elbow, raising her brows once and spoke with her voice laced in an overdose of sweetness, “Aww… why don’t we talk about it afterward??”
Alya and Mukti chuckled as Cabir whistled, before laughing, “I love it! Why don’t you two discuss it here? It’ll be fun!”
Manik glared at Cabir with an irritated look in his eyes. He replied with a scoring stroke, “Won’t it be more fun if you tell us when did you come back, how did you come, why didn’t you call me, you idiot? You are meeting me here!”
“Ijust came back an hour ago and got to know about this party…so I came! Listen, I’ll tell you about everything in detail later,” Cabir smirked, “Trust me, it’s a long story… for now, in short… I will just say that I always loved Sirius Black. Today I actually followed him.”
Cabir laughed when he said that and only Nandini understood it and laughed with him. Manik stared at her when he didn’t get the joke. His irritated expression travelled from Nandini to Cabir and then back to Nandini. She found that cute so she told him, “He means to say that he ran away!”
“What??!!! Ran away from??? Marriage??”
“It wasn’t a marriage. It was jail! I was being forced and I didn’t even know the girl. Babuji said that I have to get married on Saturday. So, I ran away!”
Manik opened his eyes wider with a shocked look and a nod of disbelief. He smirked proudly and patted Cabir’s back strongly, “I’m so proud of you, bro!!”
His happiness and patting Cabir’s back, slightly irked Nandini. Alya teased Cabir, “Oh Cabir, you are so lucky… you got saved from an unwanted marriage. It was a good move!”
“Brave, I’d say!” Manik was standing with his hands around Cabir’s shoulder, clearly ecstatic about his escape and with a twinkle in his eyes. Nandini folded her hands across her chest, pressed her lips and nodded sweetly but with a disapproving glare in her eyes, that only Manik could notice. And, he noticed it while laughing with Mukti and teasing Cabir. Immediately, he became conscious, took his hands away from Cabir and lost that loud expression on his face.
Clearing his throat, he faked a smile to pacify Nandini, who raised her brows and smiled again. The rest could now relate to this subtle questioning look in Nandini’s eyes and Manik’s awkward smile. Once again, he had landed himself in a soup.
Enjoying the situation, Mukti, Alya and Cabir excused themselves to leave the newlywed couple to deal with another small tiff… just about to ensue.
When everyone left them alone, he smiled again, very awkwardly and sighed, “Nandu…it’s…”
“Awww… how sad, Manik Malhotra! You could neither be BRAVE, nor LUCKY! Nahi??”