Chapter 21

“Go in right now. And don’t come out on your own. Did you get my words loud and clear?”

“I did. Thank you for the ride and help. And….. your kind advice”, Ashi solemnly replied unlocking her seatbelt reaching for the handle to unlock the door just when she turned and said, “Can I have my phone back?”

“Sure you can. But why are you sounding sarcastic?”

Rihaan reached for his pocket and handed her the iPhone.

“Maybe because I’m being one.”

Rihaan smiled his half-curved, cocky smile.

“Goodbye.”

“See you.”

***

“Early? Anything wrong?”

Ashi’s mom arched her eyebrows at her.

“Working from home”, Ashi casually said, sauntering off in her bedroom.

Her mom pulled a puzzled face.

“And why?”

“Because Mr. Princey Malhotra wants me to.”

Ashi said as she closed the door behind her.

Ashi’s iPhone made a soft beep.

Rihaan: Reached?

“What’s with him? He’s irritating me, stage five now.”

Ashi: “Yes, in one piece. Safe and sound. I tried but I couldn’t actually put myself in trouble in these ten steps that guided me in, even if I wanted to.”

Rihaan: “Smartmouth, you talk a lot, here too.”

Ashi: *rolling my eyes*

Rihaan: Other days I would have fired you for being impolite to your boss. But not today. Today, I want you to roll them. It confirms that you are normal.”

Ashi: “I’m normal. And now bye because I’m trying to work.”

Ashi locked her phone and quickly unlocked it in haste for making a call to Ramesh Lodha. She punched in a few keys in her iPhone and waited for him to answer.

“Yes Ashi, I know you’re working from home for the next few days. Rihaan called. Just email me once you’re done with your work. I’ll send someone to collect the designs or let me know if you can come out for half-an-hour or so.”

Ashi rolled her eyes as Rihaan’s words from their earlier conversation – “Your Rihaan is a powerful man” – echoed in her mind.

“Jeesh.”

“Thank you, Ramesh. I’ll email you the details and yes I can manage coming out for an hour or so.”

“By the way, why didn’t you tell me that you’re not well and that you’ve been sickening for jaundice.”

“I’ve been diagonized with what?”

“Jaundice. Don’t worry, Ashi, Rihaan told me everything. Do take care and don’t stress yourself. Work can wait. See you.”

Ashi could sense a smile on his face as he spattered out the kind words.

“Of course. I’ll take care. Thank you, Ramesh.”

Ashi hung up the call and blew out a breath from the left corner of her lips before rolling her eyes into the back of her head.

“Time for some work, without distractions.”

Ashi murmured like a promise and slid her iPhone under the covers.

***

“Will I be disturbing you if I come in?”

A known voice caught Ashi’s attention while she was engrossed in her work.

“Of course, you will. But since you’re my Mumma, you will still disturb me even if I say no. Because if I don’t listen to you now, you’ll keep peeping in, head first, every ten minutes.”

“Is someone pissed?”

Ashi’s mom sauntered in and settled on the edge of the bed.

“Not actually. Just trying my arse off to concentrate. What’s it that you’ve to talk about? And one more thing if it has anything to do with or revolve around Rihaan, you can save it for later.”

Ashi completed in a single breath staring at her laptop screen all the time.

Ashi’s mom chuckled a little before speaking, that made Ashi to glare in her direction.

“No, nothing about him or anything related to him. We’re flying to Delhi tonight. Me and your Dad. You aunt – Sheela, isn’t responding to any of the old medicinal treatments. I’m telling you this, because I know you won’t join us. Besides, I don’t want you to join us. Do you work and sort yourself up a little.”

“How long will you both take?”

“Four to five days, provided, things turn out in our favour.”

Ashi’s mom crossed her fingers and pressed her lips together into a thin line. Ashi fixed her sight back to the screen.

“Okay. It’s no news for me, Mumma. Rihaan told me about it already. I mean, he asked, if I was joining you all.”

“Okay, now who’s dragging Rihaan in our conversations?”

Ashi narrowed her eyes, “I didn’t-t-t”,

“I know, I know. I was just pulling your leg. I told him in the morning as I didn’t have anything else to talk about. You know.”

She shrugged and continued, “You carry on with your work then, I’ll get done with the packing. You need anything? Hungry?”

Ashi smiled beaming at her mom, partly stood up balancing her weight on her knees and pulled her mom in a surprise hug.

“I’m very hungry.”

Ashi’s mom smiled back assuringly and padded off, leaving Ashi all by herself.

***

Winding up her work, Ashi turned off her laptop and changed into her pyjamas; she’s just trying to settle herself for a good read, when her phone rang voicing its presence, making her to jump a little before she saw “Ruchi” flashing on her screen. She smiled and turned in her bed, fixing her eyes on the ceiling of her bedroom as she answered the call.

“Bitch!”

A voice from the other end swore before Ashi could come up with a, “Hello”.

“Ruchi! Stop being dramatic. Shoot right away. What’s the matter?”

“Fuck you, Ashi. I really want to spank the shit out of you. You’ve totally forgotten me, of late.”

“Ruchi, just stop with your cover up stories. Who’re you dating now?”

“I ain’t dating nobody. Shruti said that she saw you with someone last night at Sync. A hot someone. So I want to know who were that someone and what were you doing with him, that’s it. If you’re not going to tell me, I’ll grill you for the same. So please, cooperate.”

Ashi could almost imagine her smirking, peering through the little slits that her eyes were.

“Is he in town, Ashi? You fucking didn’t tell me! She continued babbling not allowing Ashi any space in between her sentences. Ashi sighed in exasperation making sure it travels across the line.

“Ruchi, now, where are you?”

“What the fuck is this? You are –”,

“Answer damn!”

Ashi slashed her words mid-sentence allowing them to hover aloft.

“Our same old place. The Café.”

“Great! So now stuff some tissues in your mouth. You’re vomiting shit out of it.”

“Cut out the shit talks, Ashi! Tell me about it all! Right now!”

“Come over and I’ll tell you about everything. I really can’t converse with you on phone.”

“Ugh. No! I’ve a party to attend later. It’s weekend, darling! Some fortunate people do have a life outside their thick books, you see?”

“Yep. I see.” Ashi smirked even though Ruchi couldn’t see it.

“Oh, wait. I’ve a wonderful plan. Why don’t you join us for that party?” Ruchi yelled in excitement.

Ashi had to drift the phone away from her ear to avoid Ruchi’s yelling drill its way into her ear.

“I can’t. Mom and Dad are flying to Delhi tonight. I’ve to be home.” Ashi replied solemnly lingering her sight on the ceiling designs she’d created.

“Ashi, Ugh! You’re an excuse queen!” She paused and continued, “What are you doing now?”

“I’m reading.”

“For the love of Christ, can you once sacrifice your reading session for this friend of yours?”
“For the love of Christ! Ruchi, does uncle know about this – love of Christ of yours?” Ashi exclaimed with an apparent mockery.

“Ashi, really sad, Darling. Mistiming. We aren’t discussing me today. So stop! Wait, you come here right now!”

“But-t-t.” Ashi tried to interrupt her but she continued as if she’d predicted Ashi’s next words.

“And before you say – no, let me tell you that I ain’t taking no ‘no’ for that.”

Ashi could sense her smile from across the line.

“First tell me that you’ll stop using double negatives in your every next statement. I ain’t….. no…..” Ashi drawled the words deliberately.

“Yes. Yes. I’ll try not to. I promise. Now please hurry up and drag your arse here in the next 30 minutes.”

“Okay. See you then.”

Ashi quickly disconnected the call before Ruchi could say anything else.

Only when Ashi disconnected the call did she realize that she’d received a message from Rihaan 12 minutes back.

4:43 Rihaan: Any calls?

Ashi tapped to reply.

4:55 Ashi: No. Stop being paranoid. I’m inside four walls. More than safe.

5:00 Rihaan: You’re an ado-magnet. I’m not being paranoid. Just enquiring.

5:01 Ashi: Okay.

5:02 Rihaan: Who were you talking to, then?

Ashi checked her iPhone. There’s a missed call from Rihaan which she didn’t notice.

“Jeesh.” Ashi let out a disgusted sigh.

5:02 Ashi: Was talking to a friend of mine.

5:03 Rihaan: What friend?

5:03 Ashi: You don’t know all my friends!

5:17 Rihaan: Name? And no exclamations.

Ashi rolled her eyes before replying – “Ruchi” and exited the app in order to avoid further questioning from Rihaan – the paranoid.

Ashi pulled on her favourite hoodie with her matching pair of jeans and peeped head first in her mom’s bedroom.

“I’m going to meet Ruchi at the Café. See you.”

“Be home in time. We’ve to leave.”

“Yes. I will.” Ashi smiled pulling the door ajar.

***

“Oh! Rihaan it is then. And what about him? That New York one?”

“If he cared, he would have contacted me in these six months.”

Ashi smiled guiltily gliding her index finger on the rim of the coffee mug.

“Hmm. That means you’re dumping the hopes finally?” Ruchi asked, batting her eyelashes and raising her eyebrows, peering over her mug.

“I gave up on all the hopes three months back. No use running after and chasing something that wants to leave.”

“I thought you still loved him.”

Ashi looked up in her direction and smiled sheepishly, “It has been 2 months since I met you. One and a half to be precise. I used to talk about him because that used to bring me happiness. But Rihaan isn’t anything like him. Rihaan actually introduced me to this world of love and affection in a weird yet tingling way. He sneaked in. Just like that. God knows how and when. All I know is, he’s already there, dwelling full time and I haven’t thought about Mr. New York since I’ve met him. He’s so twisted, yet beautiful; not to mention intrigue. He draws me to him even if I don’t want to. You know like –”

Ashi who was solemnly talking non-stop rather was thinking loud was suddenly made to halt by Ruchi’s perplexed expressions.

“What?” Ashi asked Ruchi who was staring back at her wide eyed, her lips parted forming an ‘O’.

Ashi clicked her fingers in front of Ruchi’s face and a smile escaped Ashi’s lips.

“Drama Queen, what is it?”

“You fucking are head over heels! And believe me it’s no where even closer to what you were when you babbled about that Douchebag.”

“Ruchi! Just stop calling him that! Maybe he’s just being a good companion to me and I misunderstood. Or maybe he misunderstood his feelings. It can be anything.”

Ashi could sense Ruchi’s eye rolling even if her gaze was fixed on the mug and the coffee in it. Ashi blushed smiling at the thought.

“What are you doing here?”

A tall figure stood hovering across the table glaring down at Ashi, his hands folded across his chest, lips pressed together into a thin line.

Ashi traced the voice first, expecting the figure – bottom to top standing next to her, not to match the voice; but it matched and her smile gradually faded and was replaced by something very nigh to terror. Rihaan stood tall looking all displeased. Her reason to worry was quite apparent. Maybe because she was well-versed with Rihaan and his rage that she could sense his upcoming wrath and come up with her possible rescue reactions for the same. No matter how much RIhaan denied or refused, they both had started knowing each other. And so, as if her sub conscious had deduced a full-proof and effective reaction, Ashi out of nowhere grinned a full-length, tooth flashing smile at Rihaan and cloaked her expressions to normal. Ashi could see a flash of amusement across his face before he went back to his former stance.

“Meet my friend, Ruchi Sehgal. And Ruchi

Ashi stifled a laugh and pressed her lips together as she saw Ruchi’s lips parting in a bigger “O” while her jaw dropped.

Next…

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