Chapter 7

“Okay everyone. I’ll take a leave. It’s already half past eleven”, Ashi said looking at her Casio. “Dad..” Before she started, her Dad said, “You carry on Ashi, we’ll talk in the evening, once you’re back. Ashi mentally relaxed.

“Thank God. He sounds more like ‘My Dad’ now”, she grinned, gleaming with the thought.

“Rihaan, even you leave for your meet, we oldies will hang out for some more time. And drop Ashi at Ramesh’s office. It’s on your way”, Rihaan’s Dad said in a tad orderly tone.

“Okay Dad. No problem. I’ll drop Miss Ashi”, Rihaan said rolling the words on his tongue for emphasis, looking at Ashi. “Let’s go, Smart Mouth.”

“Sure, let’s go.” Ashi said smirking at him. Rihaan slightly frowned at her reply.

Ashi held her words till they were alone in the parking area. The moment they were all by themselves Ashi spoke, “What did you think? I’ll say no for the ride?”

Rihaan nodded his head as a sign of acceptance and said, “You surprised me. I thought you hated me like anything.”

“Believe me; I still do with all my heart. I loathe you. But, you ‘like me’ and seeing that you should be given a chance to spend some time with me, shouldn’t you?” Ashi sarcastically ended as she fastened her seat belt.

Rihaan gazed at her all the while she spoke and settled in her seat. Ashi could sense his eyes on her and in a mutual moment – the moment she looked at him and he looked away, he said, “Spend time with you, well, I don’t mind if you dwell and grow on this sweet-that-will-turn-sour-misunderstanding of yours but, I really love the way you loathe me. Actually, I’m not used to this loathing from beautiful girls – Oh wait, but you’re not beautiful.”

Ashi wryly looked at him and said, “Dry humour. Talk about lameness being personified.” Before they could continue their quibbling, Ashi’s phone rang. “Yep. I’m on my way.” Ashi covered the mouthpiece and asked Rihaan, “How long will it take?”

“With the current pace, twenty minutes max.”

Ashi talked in her phone, “Half an hour to the max. Okay. Ya.”

After disconnecting the call, Ashi was caught into a state and continued staring out of the window with her thought. It was as if Rihaan actually sneaked into Ashi’s mind and could sense her anxiety or restlessness after the call. He asked her, “What’s it, Queen of Sarcasm? Has anyone told you, you look really good when you’re quite? I can actually go ahead and risk calling you beautiful.”

Ashi heard him but didn’t fuel the conversation as she was too busy with some serious contemplation. This bothered Rihaan. Yes, bothered. Since the time they had met, this was the first time something had gripped her this intensely.

“What happened?” he asked.

Still looking out she said, “I’m starting late, that means a long day, which eventually means I’ll be late.”

“And?” he asked as if he could hear that unspoken “and” at the end of the conversation.

Ashi turned to look at him directly and continued, “What’s it with you?”

Rihaan ignored her reply and went on, “Ramesh Lodha? Is it? Did he try making a pass at you?”

“Not yet. But, I can feel him hovering over me when I work”, Ashi said absentmindedly. Sooner did she say, did she realize that she’d actually said that out loud and clear in the flow of the conversation.

“How did he understand? Was it made that obvious by me? This man is definitely going to let me in for some dire problems”, she thought all the time locking her sight at him.

“What? Stop, looking at me like that! You’re distracting me and my driving! Dare you blame me if we land up in a hospital”, Rihaan said, expecting her to say something.

Rihaan’s comment made her to look away but she didn’t utter a word. For the first time all this while since she’d met him, her thoughts weren’t shouting at her. She was blank. Instead, her thoughts were simmering and before they evolved into a volcano she preferred to enjoy this oasis-moment of her life.

“Chill, Ashi. It’s no biggie. He’s Ramesh Lodha. He hires girls for his job for that. It’s kind of commonly known to all. So, I haven’t decoded some nuclear codes for you to go all zapped. It’s apparent for the ones who work with him. Everyone knows this and so do I. Relax”, Rihaan said as he dodged his attention between her and the road, trying to read her expressions.

“What about our Dads? They know this?” Ashi asked still looking straight at the road ahead.

“I don’t think they know him that well. They’re in business with his father, who died last year. So, ya besides Ramesh being his son they really won’t be knowing anything more, as in, his personal life, professional life, his interests, etc.”, Rihaan answered solemnly.

“Okay.” Ashi replied and continued her sightseeing.

“If it suffocates you so much, quit him. Tell him you can’t do it anymore”, Rihaan said.

“I can’t, I’ve given him my word. I don’t break my commitments”, Ashi replied and silence cocooned them both.

Rihaan drove his BMW in the driveway of Ramesh Lodha’s office to give Ashi a closer drop.

“Thanks a lot for the ride. I would’ve been really late if you wouldn’t have dropped me. See you.” Ashi made a dry formal statement before she got down from the car.

“Formality isn’t needed”, Rihaan replied immediately.

Ashi turned and answered directly looking at him, “You know what, you really need to learn to take compliments and genuine appreciations.” Rihaan’s lips curled into a curve.

“Welcome back. I’m glad I managed to get you back”, Rihaan grinned to show one of his full-length, heart-melting boyish smiles. Ashi rolled her eyes at his comment and smirked at him before turning her back and walking towards the office. Rihaan kept looking at her till she disappeared behind those revolving glass doors. Still smiling, Rihaan fired the gas and drove off.

He’d never done this before – waiting and watching someone from his car till that person visibly vanished. This was his first time. First of the many firsts to follow. He seemed to have not noticed it but something in him was changing, terribly changing.

Pure feelings are never biased. They shoot both the souls equally, with the same intensity and develop changes in both. So, we cannot say that it only changes one person. If Ashi had noticed changes in her, it was obvious that even Rihaan had. Yes, it is true that the damage may depend on how emotional the person is, but one can’t deny the effect or the change it brings. The more the EQ more is the damage. Ashi visibly was the peddler of EQ in their case while Rihaan’s real self was too veiled under his current self. That’s the reason he didn’t notice or gave it a thought for contemplation. It would be really unjust or rather too soon to say, he cared or had any soft feelings for Ashi. But, that “but” still remains in his giggles, that boyish heart melting smiles, that mischiefs, that questioning, that convincing and attempts to make everything seem normal; he was slowly regaining all of those lost things under her existence. Her mood had started affecting his, with him being oblivious about it. Agreed, it wasn’t an over longing or over lasting effect and was soon forgotten in his case but it still had a transient effect. May be some triggers were needed to set those effects on fire and life was working on it. Life is a satirical bitch and she’d definitely thought about some cherry-picked situations for them.

Stirring her coffee, Ashi went into a thorough flashback.

“Does these all even make sense? But I really cannot deny the way I felt when he said ‘I managed to get you back’. Even though I rolled my eyes as a matter-of-presentation, only I know what I actually felt deep down. Did he mean all of that? Forget about all, did he even mean a single one of that? Did his mood really get affected? I don’t know but I could sense that. Jeesh, he’ll be leisurely sitting in his office flirting with someone else and here am I, wasting my valuable thoughts on him.”

Her subconscious glared at her and warned, “Don’t! Its venom and you are human. Venom and human can never go together. No doubt you’ll gulp it in but it’ll only cause your death once it is inside you.”

“Let’s get to work, shall we?” Ashi’s rustling thoughts were interrupted and halted in their way by Ramesh as he approached Ashi and sat next to her.

“Sure.” Ashi’s reply was reluctant.

Sauntering in his office, sipping his coffee, something was not letting Rihaan to concentrate on his work. Whenever he tried to, his mind played games, games he’d never experienced in his lifetime. Failing to understand the reason, he kept pushing his ardent thoughts whenever they tried to surface. Realizing they’re undeniable, he thought of something to anchor them. He made a call, “Hello Dad, just wanted to know if you’ve finalized someone for working the interiors of our office?” “Great. I’ll tell smart mouth then. She is great at her work. Okay Dad, Ashi. Happy? All right. I’ll tell her. Bye.”

Striding towards his desk he made a quick intercom.

“Hello Veera. Just call Anvesha Rathore and connect me.”

The call rang at the other end. Ashi peeked into her phone from the laptop’s screen, before stealing a glance at Ramesh, who was sitting next to her looking at the screen. Seeing an unknown number she rejected and dimmed the screen.

“Sir, she disconnected the call. Should I redial?”

“No, Veera that’s okay”, Rihaan replied and he disconnected the call. Stressing his brows a little, Rihaan took out his iPhone from his trousers and dialed Ashi’s number. Ashi’s concentration was disrupted by a beep and vibrations that followed from her iPhone.

“Something important it seems. Take it”, Ashi could hear Ramesh’s sharp comment before she could press the sleep button twice and disconnect her caller. She grabbed her phone expecting it to be that unknown caller but to her surprise she saw “Rihaan” flashing on her screen. She thought for a while and instead of rejecting it, she let it ring in her handbag.

“As of, it would’ve been pointless attending his call. What would we have done? Argued.  And, in front of this man. Never.”

Ashi tried to restore her concentration. But it was futile concentrating now, as it had already been cracked.

On the other hand, Malhotra and Sons, was experiencing some chronic issues. With Rihaan ending up in a row with anyone he tried having a conversation with, he always remembered to call Ashi. He kept pacing around his cabin, twiddling with his phone, expecting it to ring. He called her five times. Ashi didn’t know and so, didn’t even bother about it. Finally, when she got a break from her work and Ramesh’s hovering, she checked her phone. “Five missed calls!!!” she exclaimed as she kept looking at her screen, wide-eyed. Like a commonly followed protocol to call back, she dialed Rihaan’s number. He answered on the first ring.

“Ashi, where are you?”

Ashi took her phone away from her ear and gave it a look, to confirm if she’d dialed the right number, before answering, “Where you left me two hours back. What’s wrong? You called me five times. Anything serious?

Rihaan’s sigh of relief was much communicated across the line. Ashi couldn’t process her mind to what was happening. All she could sense was Rihaan’s anxiety, worry or some other rare looking emotion being settled with that sigh. Ashi’s mouth was clamped shut by Rihaan’s reactions.

“How are you?”

Rihaan’s conscious visibly took over as he framed his question. He rationalized that he’d reacted way more than it was necessary or was expected of him.

“I’m good. What’s it Rihaan? Are you okay?” Ashi was worried that he’d finally lost it.

“I’m perfectly fine. I was worried about you. And I don’t know why? Actually, my Dad wants you to take up the work of designing our new office and I was calling you for the same. Here’s some relief for you too. You can quit your current assignment, now that you already have another one in hand, if that was what bothering you this noon.”

Ashi had a clump of questions to shoot at him but wisely restored to the latter and saved the knotty ones for later. She hawked a little before speaking, “I would be more than happy to work with Malhotra and Sons. It’s like a dream job for me; for any interior designer actually. But what I said earlier still stands high and had nothing to do with – not having any other assignment in hand. I’ve a week more till I complete this current commitment of mine. After that we can go ahead with your assignment.”

“Fair enough.” Rihaan could hardly disguise his reluctance in those two words. “We need to discuss this in detail. Today evening after your work, will that be fine? Call home and tell that you’ll be dining out, in case it is fine for you.”

“All right. Text me where to meet and at what time. Anytime after eight will be good. I need to rush now. See you.”

“Goodbye.” Rihaan disconnected the call.

“Rihaan as in Rihaan Malhotra? Malhotra and Sons?” Ashi heard a cocky statement as soon as she disconnected the call. It was Ramesh.

“Jeesh, was he eavesdropping?” Ashi thought as she managed to give him a forced smile.

“Yes.” she said finally.

“Looks like someone is having some good contacts coming up.”

“You know him?” Ashi asked curiously.

“Yes, we were in the same school. He was my junior though. Bright student. Intelligent. Loved by all. Till he lost his mother in a car accident that was more of a conspiracy.”

“Car accident that was more of a conspiracy?” Ashi exclaimed repeating his words.

“Yes, it’s a matter of public records. Let’s resume our work.”

“Great! Now I’ve something more to think about, like the present ones were falling short.” Ashi sighed and padded after her client.

Next….

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