“Hello Ruchi.” Rihaan held out his hand.
Recomposing herself a tad and straightening up a little, Ruchi reached for his hand and managed for a – “Hello”.
Rihaan flashed his patented smile at her and Ashi could vividly see its effect on Ruchi. She’s smiling back at him looking all the more smitten.
Rihaan abruptly stopped smiling and darted his sight to Ashi, narrowing his eyes only to the extent that Ashi got the message they wished to convey.
Before she could offer Rihaan to join them, Rihaan said never ceasing to look at Ashi, “Ruchi, if you don’t mind, I would like to steal your friend from you”, he shifted his gaze to Ruchi, “Will you?”
“Yes, of course.”
Ruchi blurted out even before even before she could process her words for a better sensible reply.
“Thank You, Miss.”
Rihaan smiled and holding Ashi by her wrist walked her out of the café, to the place he’d parked his BMW.
“You can’t fucking take orders, right?”
Rihaan’s smile was nowhere to be seen. He’s fuming at her to a whole new level, this time.
“I’m okay, Rihaan. Stop being paranoid. I’m neither dead nor I’ve received any threat calls. No duress, Rihaan.”
Ashi tried explaining in a pacifying tone.
Rihaan just stared at her, for seemed like forever. It muddled Ashi. It’s as if he didn’t take in anything Ashi said a minute ago. The silence had started making a piercing noise, when Rihaan spoke after what felt like eternity,
“I’m not being paranoid –”
Rihaan took a couple of steps towards Ashi and cupped her face in his warm hands.
“ – And I’m not letting you die. Don’t voice it again. Ever. I’ve seen death and it’s nowhere close to a joke or a mockery.”
Rihaan eyes no longer carried fury and his face no longer carried rage. Instead, it looked agonized. His eyes, a clear state of worry; the depth in them, immeasurable.
A new Rihaan was standing in front of Ashi, altogether. Ashi couldn’t voice her thoughts as they weren’t in sync. Her words seemed to have got caught inside her throat. She stood there still, immovable, silent like a comatose. She feared that any movement on her part might break the serenity of the moment. A lot of questions sprang in her mind –
“What death? Whose death? Viewing death closely? Who is he talking about?”
– Which she astutely chose not to ask him currently. He wasn’t ready for it, yet, nor was she.
“Get in the car, please.” Rihaan finally broke the silence. “I’ll take you home. And please tell me you won’t leave your house on your own without informing me.”
“I’ve to tell Ruchi that I’m leaving.”
Ashi folded her hands across her chest.
“Call her and tell or drop a text. Don’t go in again.”
Rihaan strode around the car to climb in the driver’s seat.
“Rihaan! You can’t do this! She’s my friend!” Ashi’s tone was accusatory.
Rihaan glanced over the roof of the car and sucked in a noticeable amount of air.
“Don’t behave like a sophomore and start this again!”
Ashi’s eyebrows creased together forming a frown.
“By the way, what are you doing here? This place doesn’t look like your type or seem to match your standards.”
Rihaan sighed in exasperation.
“You want to know everything here? In the middle of the street?”
“All right then.” Rihaan took a deep breath before continuing, “I knew you were here and that’s why I’m here, to see if you’re fine and safe.”
Ashi’s frown deepened into a scowl as she replied sounding offended, “You’re stalking me! Rihaan, that’s far from being decent. You can’t stalk anybody under your so-called protecting my assets tag.”
She air quoted the words “protecting my assets” squinting at him.
“I didn’t stalk you, technically.”
Rihaan punched in a few keys in his iPhone and pressed it against his ear. Ashi waited in silence tapping her right foot in anticipation.
“Hello, Steven. Can you come down here. Yep, where my car is parked.”
Rihaan disconnected the call.
“Who’s Steven?” Ashi pulled an astounded face.
“The one who was stalking you because I told him to keep a close eye on you. For I somewhere knew that you would defy me.”
“What the F-f-f?!!!”
Ashi said and stormed in the direction where Rihaan was standing.
A large muscular figure came striding towards them and halted where Ashi was standing, a few seconds back.
“Here he comes. Hello, Steven. Thank you. You may leave now.”
Rihaan collected something from Steven and politely told him to get lost.
“What’s this in the middle of an ongoing conversation?” Ashi whispered through gritted teeth.
“Steven, wait for a minute.”
Steven turned part puzzled and part lost, waiting for his boss to fire a command so that he could readily obey it.
“This is Anvesha Rathore. Alias, Ashi. You’ve to be with her all the time when she is out of her house. You also have to be outside her house, guarding it, whenever she is in. Any suspicious activity, just dial me. Okay?”
The reply was an expected one.
Rihaan sounded so formal, professional and clean that if it wasn’t for the words he spoke, Ashi would’ve ran all mad after his improvised, professional, Rihaan form. Yes, Ashi was mad; the only difference was – she’s furiously mad at Rihaan.
“I don’t need a bodyguard, for God’s sake! Rihaan, your brain is in a dire need of a psychiatrist. Please, visit one.”
“Why are you scowling at me?”
“What do you expect? Why are you doing all these?” Ashi threw her hands animatedly into the air. “This extra care of yours is choking me to death. It’s not helping me, Rihaan. Please try to understand.”
“I understand choking you to death. But I don’t understand you mentioning, it’s not helping you.”
Ashi glared at Rihaan looking all the more annoyed and pissed before closing her eyes for a quick composure.
“Are you really this obtuse, Rihaan?”
Ashi narrowed her eyes at him accusingly.
“Anyways what I meant was – It’s not helping me to forget that you don’t feel for me the same way I do.”
“I thought we were done with that last night. Ashi, I told you whatever I had to. Now get into the car or I’ll have to force you in. You don’t have much choice in this. So, stop arguing. If you’ve to come out on your own, like you did today, you’ve to take Steven with you. If you want to avoid him, stay in.”
Ashi passed a quick, deadly glare in his direction.
Rihaan roguishly smiled at her reaction before continuing, “I know what you’re thinking; you can call it drawbacks of defying Rihaan. Get in now and wear your seat belt.”
Disgusted and shocked at the velocity his mercurial mood swings from – bad, worse, worst to good, better, best, Ashi strode around the car and slipped in the passenger seat next to Rihaan.
Ashi took out her iPhone and typed a message,
7:15 – “I’ve already left. I’ll tell you everything in detail, later.”
Three minutes later Ashi’s phone beeped and even before opening the message she knew it’s from Ruchi.
7:18 Ruchi – He’s hot! Hot! HOT! Yes, yes, we’ll talk about “him” later. See you, Babe.”
Ashi rolled her eyes at her mobile screen.