The wall clock displayed five minutes to eight. Ashi was in a blurry-dreamy state listening to some beats of Demi Levato. The mellifluous beats happened to play in the back of her mind. She was in a half-awakened state, where her dreams and reality were separated by a thin horizon. The music was real but the images that personified in front of her altered every now and then. Soon, her conscious sense took over and the music became louder and louder till she realized it was ringing in the real world – from her official phone. Even without having a glance at her hanging clock, she knew she was terribly late for her client meet.
“Shit! Where’s my phone”, she exclaimed in terror.
Ashi was wide awake as she sat upright in her bed. By the time she rummaged through her handbag, her phone had stopped ringing. She checked the missed calls.
“Ramesh Lodha! Shit!” she checked the time, “8’ o clock. Shit! Shit! Shit! I just have an hour!” I’ll have to become a ninja.”
She got out of her bed and hurled herself towards the bathroom like a crazy ball.
Getting out of the shower, she made a quick call to her client. “Ramesh, I’ll be a little late. Ya, like fifteen minutes. Yes. Okay. Thank You”, she let out a sharp breath. Dressed up in a formal attire, she stuffed her bag making a mental list to include everything necessary for the meet.
She opened her room’s door only to shut it behind her. Seeing her parents sitting in the living room made her remember the blunder she’d indulged in, last night.
“Oh please, not now.”
Both of them didn’t seem to notice her and were engrossed in some deep discussion. As soon as her mom set her gaze on her, their whole discussion stood still.
“Shit! What were they talking about? This is not a good start for the day. Not a good news at all.”
Silence enveloped them and Ashi thought to break it in her own patented style. She squared her shoulders, took a long breath, plastered a huge fake smile and said, “Good Morning Parents. How are you doing this morning?”
“Good Morning Darling. We’re good. How are you? And where are you heading this early?” Ashi’s mom reflected her smile as she asked.
“Client meet Mumma and I’m already late…”
Her Dad interrupted their conversation, “Ashi, is there anything you want to discuss about or talk about?”
Ashi wasn’t too astonished as she’d an idea about this, after her actions blurted out last night. She strode the distance between them as she spoke, “Yes, I’ve to but not now. I’m really getting late Dad.” She waited expectantly for her Dad to reply, “Okay. Yes of course you may leave. We’ll talk about it once you’re back.”
Ashi genuinely smiled at his reply and relaxed mentally.
“Sit down. I’ll get you something to eat. Once again you slept like that last night. Empty stomach. Ashi, you just don’t……..” Ashi interrupted her mom, “Yes, Mumma I know I know. I’ll eat an apple. Okay?” Saying this, Ashi grabbed an apple and took a big bite. “Delicious apples Mumma. Get the same ones the next time”, she successfully sidetracked her mom and started walking towards the main door as she bid goodbye to both of them. Passing the threshold, she pulled the main door behind her and bumped into someone who was on the verge of ringing the doorbell.
For a moment after she deduced the frame line of that “someone” her world came to a standstill. Her mind refused to believe what her eyes showed her. Adrenaline gushed through her body waiting for a ‘fight or flight’ call from her. But Ashi preferred to remain still gawking at him. She wished hard for all this to be a dream; a dream that would end once she opened her eyes. But, if things happened according to her wish, that “someone” wouldn’t have been standing there at her doorstep smiling his cocky grin, waiting for her to get out of her awestruck-coma mode. Dizziness gripped her as her adrenaline calmed and settled in her navel. Her thoughts lallygagged and walked into each other to evolve into a complex-looking mess.
Rihaan stepped forward and touched her chin as he said, “Close that mouth and breathe. Don’t make it obvious that my presence has this kind of effect on you.” His touch sent sparks through her body and she felt like some spell that had made her immovable, broke under his touch. His mention of the word ‘breathe’ made her realize that she’d held her breath all this while. She sharply let out a suppressed breath.
“Regain your senses and primarily regain and exercise that ability of yours to speak. Stop gawking at him. He’s for real. All bone and flesh and not an illusion or a dream. Look, he’s even talking”, her sub-conscious shot some hoity-toity sarcasm at her.
“What the hell are you doing here?” her words finally broke loose from her mouth.
He frowned still maintaining that roguish smile as he spoke, “We’ve come here to meet your Dad and Mom.”
“We? What we? Who we?” Ashi asked with a little exasperation.
Rihaan’s smile widened when he saw Ashi’s restless expressions. “Me and my biological Dad”, he replied.
Before Ashi could continue with her question-bombarding session, Rihaan continued as if he’d sensed her questions hurling his way, “Today morning, my Dad had this wonderful enlightenment that he’ll meet you and your parents instead of just talking to you. I texted you – SMS, WhatsApp, Hangouts, almost everywhere and when I didn’t get a reply, I even tried calling you, but the programmed operator answered and she said that your phone is off. I mean switched off.”
“Fuck my life. Airplane mode”, Ashi’s palm automatically found her forehead as she rationalized everything.
“And now the main thing…” as Rihaan started off he abruptly stopped mid-way and continued in an altered tone and words, “Hello Dad, parked the vehicle already?” His Dad was a tall man almost the height of Rihaan but had developed a tad stoop because of his old age. He was a live example why Rihaan looked like the way he did. That man looked ageless and had a heart-melting smile. His debonair was alluring.
“Hello Beta. How are you doing this morning?” he enquired with what felt like his patented smile.
Ashi got a golden chance to ignore Rihaan in toto and got time to regain and restore her senses. She entirely diverted her focus towards his Dad and treated Rihaan as an invisible being, who didn’t exist.
“Good Morning Uncle. I’m doing great. Just running late for a client meet. I’m really sorry that I’ll have to take your leave. I promise to join you all as soon as possible”, quoth she like an eccedentesiast.
“Who’s the client Beta?” his Dad asked her.
“Umm..”, Ashi was oblivious of where this was heading. “Mr. Ramesh Lodha”, she replied solemnly.
He produced his iPhone from his trousers’ pocket, tapped on the screen and waited for the person at the other end to answer. Ashi felt like a dumb soul as she swiveled a quick glance at Rihaan. With his hands in pockets, Rihaan raised his left eyebrow as he pointed his chin in the direction where his Dad stood. Ashi reposed herself and listened to the one-sided telephonic conversation.
“Hello Ramesh. Good Morning. Can you please postpone you meet with Anvesha Rathore. Yes, the interior designer. She’s like family and I want her to be with us for a while. Okay. 12pm. Done then. Thanks. Have a good day.”
Ashi was spell bound by the power and command this man held. She knew that Ramesh Lodha was a shrewd businessman who only summed down life into a profit or loss statement which meant that if he’d agreed to postpone his meet on just a single request from Mr. Malhotra; Shiv Malhotra was a true magnate.
“Done. Now you’ve 3 hours”, he said as he held that self-satisfactory smile of accomplishment.
“Now are we allowed in or are we expected to stand here till noon?” he mocked.
Ashi grinned at his comment and said, “I’m so sorry, please come in.”
As she said, she unlocked the door and held it open for both of them. As Rihaan passed her side she whispered softly, “Now I know from where you got that rotten sarcasm of yours. Your biological source.”
Ashi’s words made Rihaan to halt in his way, smile wickedly and answer, “Would you like to see what else I’ve gotten from my biological source?”
Ashi leisurely turned a deaf ear to his question. Closing the main door she started striding when he ceased her pace by holding her wrist. “No one ignores me and I know you’ve heard me well. Now answer”, quoth he.
“I don’t wish to answer this. I’m exercising my free will and if no one ignores you, well, I’m no one”, she completed with a raised left eyebrow and half-curved smile struggling to get out of his hold. Their parents seemed to have gotten busy all by themselves and had started some discussion already.
“Wit and sarcasm. Smart Mouth, you’re a thing”, he said as he abruptly let her loose and casually walked in, leaving Ashi behind; still and befuddled.
“Fruitcake”, she murmured under her breath. She walk past him and sat beside her Dad.
Her Dad enquired, “Client meet?” Before she could answer Rihaan’s Dad answered, “I called up Ramesh and requested him to postpone it.”
Ashi’s father chuckled and asked, “Request? Really?” And both of them roared into a giant laughter while the remaining three stared at each other’s faces. Ashi interrupted, “Some official humour?”
“Yes beta, you can say that”, Rihaan’s Dad answered quickly.
“Shiv, I won’t beat around the bush and come directly to the point. The thing is, I haven’t spoken to Ashi about it and I cannot come to a decision or a conclusion unless that happens”, Ashi’s Dad completed.
Ashi looked at him as his sentence progressed. She somewhere strongly felt that this “it” was definitely not related to her blunder from last night.
“So if not that what can it be?” Ashi just thought aloud as she murmured. Everyone started looking at her.
To which Rihaan’s Dad said, “Yes beta, do you want to say something? Go ahead.”
Ashi cursed her habit and said, “No Uncle. Nothing.”
As Ashi was about to end her sentence, Rihaan meddled in, “That’s a talent she proudly beholds. What say Ashi?”
Ashi narrowed her eyes at him and ended with a smirk as she spoke looking at both the Dads from time to time, “Actually, I need to have a word with Rihaan. So, if you all don’t mind can you all please excuse us for a while.”
“Yes. Yes. Sure.” came the exact dual replies from both of them.
Ashi closed her bedroom door behind her, approached Rihaan who was gazing around attentively with what looked like amusement, folded her hands neatly on her chest and said, “What’s going on Rihaan?”
“It’s beautiful!” he exclaimed as he continued, “A White and Grey combination that perfectly blends with these paintings – a combination of abstract and quotes, that complement each other. So deep. Just perfect!! Who designed this room?”
Ashi was mesmerized by his comprehension. This was totally a different side of him.
“Is he even he?”
He saw the things that Ashi had virtually inscribed on the walls. He’d reached those depths with just a gaze. She was totally enthralled and obviously caught off guard by his hidden trait.
“Ashi, who designed it?!” Rihaan’s words disrupted her thoughts.
She tried restoring her composure and replied, “You know who I am, right?”
“You mean other than being a smart-mouth sarcastic bitch. No, I don’t”, Rihaan teased. It was pointless arguing at this point.
“I’ve designed it. It’s what I do professionally. I’m an interior designer. I really appreciate your compliments but can we talk about it later; also, let’s save the sarcasm and handle-this-with-maturity, like adults”, she said repeating his words from their earlier chat-conversation.
“Saving the sarcasm”, he emphasized each word and continued, “Well take the initiative Ashi and stop firing it at me. Okay, what you want to know?”
Ashi maintained her stance, looked at him directly, for the first time since they had met and said, “What’s happening out there? What’s with your Dad and you landing here like this?”
Rihaan gauged her grimness but continued casually to keep the situation level-headed. He took a noticeable breath as he proceeded, “Okay, before telling you anything else, tell me if you want to get married?”
Ashi’s reply was prompt, stuffed with disgust, “With you? No. Not even in my wildest dreams!” she exclaimed.
Rihaan’s expressions changed and he finally burst into a heart-captivating laughter.
“Oh My God! His laugh is so infectious. If the Greek God would’ve ever laughed, he would’ve looked every bit like this. His eyes are sparkling with that open laugh.”
Ashi’s thoughts wandered without boundaries as she kept staring at him with awe.
“Shut those thoughts! They are limbless and soulless”, her sub conscious chastised her.
Ashi repressed her thoughts and dumped them deep down, shut inside a chest for the time being. Rihaan regained his self and still holding high that suppressed laughter – now just a smile, he said, “Like, are you serious Ashi? I wasn’t talking about that. Why did you think I’ll ever get married to someone like you? Or is it that, you want this to happen? And you wish was voiced through your mouth?”
Ashi frowned at him slightly and said solemnly, “No, it’s not what you’re thinking. As I said earlier, not even in my wildest dreams. And I mean what I say. I don’t say just for the sake of it. You can rely on me for this. Now, let’s resume and leave this here.”
Somewhere chasm her words contradicted her thoughts. Rihaan continued but couldn’t stop smiling, “Okay. Okay. See, I’m just calling a spade a spade. I don’t want to get married this soon and I’m pretty sure even you don’t want to start cooking, bear babies and sacrifice your career this early. So, all-in-all, I’ve a deal for you.”
“What deal?” Ashi asked with a questioned look and a slight wry.
“Deal as in, as we both don’t want to get married this soon and since you’re the fourth girl in the last 4 months that my Dad made me meet, I think, this is a right time to put an end to his search and let him believe a lie. I’ve told him that we both like each other but we need time to know each other and also that we both don’t want to rush into this.” Rihaan finished with a sigh.
His sigh was readily followed by Ashi’s exclamation, “What the fuck!! Whom did you ask before involving me in your lies? This isn’t a way out. This is a self-made trap. What will we tell them later? Have you thought about it? Ashi literally shouted the words for the desired emphasis. “What will be my Dad thinking about me? I never hide things from him”, she said, more to herself than to him.
“Calm down, Drama Queen. Don’t over think. When you find someone who can bear you for the rest of his life or when I find someone whom I can officially fuck for the rest of my life, we’ll tell them that we’re not interested in each other anymore and bring the person we’re interested in, in front of them. They won’t bother much”, Rihaan tried to explain and convince her.
“Whatever. The damage is done already. I can deny this, but it’ll create a rift between our families. And I don’t want to happen. So, let’s have this your way for the time being”, Ashi sighed as she spoke her words.
“Now let’s go out and face the real music.”
Saying so, she started walking when Rihaan said, “By the way, this room is a great place to fuck. Do you mind if I get my girlfriends here?”
Ashi rolled her eyes and replied, “I don’t run a fleshpot here. So no. And I’ve personally designed this room to fuck my partner here”, stressing her tone on “my partner”.
“Ahaan!” Rihaan exclaimed. “So even you’ve fuck fantasies and dick desires. I’m glad to know that.”
Ashi chose to ignore his sleazy but creative comment as she made her way out of her bedroom and Rihaan followed her out plastering his roguish smile at Ashi’s reaction.