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If she had ever believed in magic……this truly was it. He was magic. He charmed her. With his wit, his attentiveness, his attitude, his stories. He was suave and polished. He drew her to him like a moth to a flame. She never stood a chance. She was scorched.
The elegant coffee shop wasn’t exactly buzzing with people. In fact as they sat at a corner table sipping their coffee and having tiramisu, she lost awareness of her surroundings. She was sure it was just the two of them. She was enraptured by him.
He asked about her and told her about himself. Little anecdotes about the places he had seen, people he had met. He did not mention his wife. But that was no blip on this perfect time. In fact she wondered if it was perfect because he had not mentioned her?
By the time he pulled up in front of her building, it was pretty late; she had lost all track of time. But even then she had tried to use the last few minutes in the car to tone down the euphoria she was feeling. She had tried to use the time to pull back from where she was charging headlong at a frightening speed.
He cut the engine and turned and peered up at her building.
“How is the house hunting going on? Have you heard from Salve?” he asked referring to the man he put in charge of her house hunting.
“Yes. He did call and tell me about a few places butthey are too far out. He says to find a place nearer here he would need more time.” she grimaced. “MoreoverI’m going home now. My flight is on Tuesday. I willcome back and start all over again. In the meantime Kavita is going to keep all my stuff with her. So there I‘ve got that all covered.” She declared laughinginfectiously.
Whoops! Her laughter caught him in the gut. It was delightful and infectious. His mouth quirked as he looked at her face alight with laughter, she was so fresh and pretty looking. Absolutely enchanting and she had managed to weave him in to her magical web. She was without artifice; totally clueless about the fine art of flirting. No feminine wiles at work here. She was as easy to read as an open book; every thought reflected upon her expressive face.
It was impossible not to smile back.
He got out of the car and came around to help her out.Before he gave into the insane urge to reach over and haul her into his arms.
She too alighted from the car and reached back into itto collect her bag. She turned to find him quite close,leaning against the car, his arms folded across his chest. Here where the light was in shadow she couldn’t quite make out his expression.
He watched as she slung her bag over her shoulder and turned to him. The laughter had died and she was self consciously looking up at him now with those beautiful, honey brown kohl lined eyes. They were luminous even in this poor light.
“Thank you so much for coffee.” She was saying in that soft voice. “I hadn’t thought I would enjoy it so much but I did.”
His eyebrows rose, “The coffee?” he asked deliberately.
She caught the amusement in his voice and the twinkle in his eyes.
“Yes.” She too answered deliberately her lips twitchinghelplessly in answering amusement because she had understood what he meant.
“And?” he prompted.
“And what?” she answered with exaggerated innocence.
“And……” his voice dropped an octave.
Her heart picked up speed. She was mesmerized by his eyes and his nearness as she waited for him to speak further.
As he let that hang in the air once more, she held her breathe, her eyes held by his, waiting as if in a trance, for him to complete his sentence.
“And the tiramisu.” He said.
She blinked. The spell broke and it took a moment for her to realize what he had just said!
Before she could decide how to respond, torn between embarrassment and genuine amusement, he had reached out and taken her hands in his and laced his fingers with hers. In the next heartbeat he had pulled her closer to him and was dipping his head to look down into her eyes. And oh my God she could feel his gentle but firm grip tightening on her own slender fingers. She could feel the strength of his body even though he was not touching her anywhere but her hands.
“You.” He said softly. “I enjoyed being with you.” Hisglorious eyes were mesmerizing her, inviting her to drown in their fathomless depths.
She stood transfixed, her eyes locked with his as his head drew even closer and her heart raced. When they were touching almost nose to nose, her eyelashes drifted close. In the next moment she felt his lips settle over hers. She felt all her senses stir as he kissed her slowly and deeply melting every bone in her body. It was heavenly. She was sure there was nothing like this in the entire world. She moaned, without even being aware of it. Her own fingers tightened around his. She felt her toes curl. And she just wanted it to go and on.
When he lifted his head she slowly opened her eyes to look at him. As they gazed at each other something passed between them. He lifted their entwined hands and dropped a soft kiss on each hand. Then he gently extricated his fingers from hers and said, “Goodnight.”
The weekend passed in a busy blur as she packed off all her stuff to Kavita and Mohan’s place. Monday morning she went to see Aditya all the while feeling a curious nervous tension even though she knew therewas no chance that she would see Madhav. He would be at work. By four she was saying goodbye to both Aditya and Mrs. Kapoor with promises to be back soon. As Aditya looked up silently at her with huge eyes, she felt an answering tug. She would miss him she knew. After giving him a final hug she turned to leave when Mrs. Kapoor spoke,
“Radhika.” She said in a soft voice. “What you have done with Aditya in only these few days is remarkable. I saw that day what I had never seen earlier nor had hoped ever to see. I saw Madhav and Aditya together. I saw the way they met when he came back from Bangalore. I pretended that I it was not such a big dealthat it was something very normal, what every father and son do everywhere. But believe me it was not. It was the most precious sight. My heart knows what I am feeling right now. And it’s all thanks to you my dear.” She finished emotionally and patted her cheek.
Radhika took her hands in hers and said, feeling equally emotional, “You don’t have to thank me, Aunty. Aditya is a wonderful child.”
Home was home. Oh the luxury of waking up late and being waited upon. The endless pampering by her mother, the indulgences by her father and even the embarrassed shows of affection by her brother. Oh yes, it was so good to be back home.
There was so much catching up to do. Tons of shopping to do and so much partying to do. The days passed in wondrous splendor. And at night when she fell into bed exhilarated and exhausted, and closed her eyes, inevitably Madhav Dewan appeared behind her closed eyelids where he had taken up permanent residence. She always fell asleep with a smile on her face. Because after days of staying away and consequently doing some serious thinking she had come to the conclusion that she was no teenager and he was no fresh faced boy just entering manhood. So she was well past the age of crushes and infatuations. And he was well beyond love. He had loved once and lost it. He was not looking out for another. Whereas she on the other hand did not want to settle for less. She wanted love. She wanted marriage. In whatever order they came to her. And Madhav Dewan was done with all that. Therefore it made perfect sense that she stay well and truly away from him. As much as she possibly could. Before she fell headlong into love only to experience the unrequited kind.
And it didn’t matter in the least that at least a thousand times a day he crossed her mind. His half smile, his amused gaze, his dark, deep voice. And his kiss. Oh lord the way he kissed. She felt exactly the same way as the heroines in her collection of romantic novels did. Her heart beat raced out of control, she felt a liquidy heat coursing through her body, her mind blanked and all she felt was sensation, just pure sensation.
It will pass. It had to. She would make sure it did. That’s what she told herself determindely. Becausehadn’t she always been the strong, sensible kind?
It was on the fifth day after her arrival that Mrs. Dewan called her late in the evening.
“Hello Radhika! How are you?” she heard the warmth in the older woman’s voice and it brought an instant smile to her face.
“Hello Aunty. It is so good to hear from you. How are you? How is Aditya?”
“Very well. Missing you of course! How is everyone at home? ” She asked graciously.
“Everyone is fine, thank you. So what has Aditya been up to?” she asked. And how is Madhav?
“He has been talking about you every day.” She said. And it took a moment for her to realize it was Aditya Mrs. Dewan was talking about and not Madhav! She firmly needed to control her thoughts.
“Here” Mrs. Dewan was saying, “he would like to say hello to you.” And then she whispered confidentially, “can you believe that?” before she passed the phone on to her grandson.
At that soft, sweet, hesitant voice tears rushed to her eyes and she had to swallow a huge lump in her throat before managing to answer in a normal voice, “Hello Aditya!” she said brightly, “How are you?”
“I am fine Miss. When are you coming?” he asked coming straight to the point.
She smiled at that, “very soon. Have you been doing your clolouring book?”
“Yes Miss. I finished it.”
“Oh my God! That means I will really have to come and have a look at it quickly.”
“Yes Miss. Come soon. Bye bye.”
“Bye bye Aditya.”
Then Mrs. Dewan was on the line. “Thank you for talking to him Radhika. He has been pestering me since the moment you left!” she laughed. “And don’t worry about finding a place when you get back. Your search is over!” before she could react to that Mrs. Dewan in her usual way was already rushing on, “so stay for as long as you want. Enjoy your stay and I will keep Aditya occupied; you’ve taught me the tricks!”
Radhika laughed at that.
“My ticket is booked for next Monday. And thank you for finding a place for me. It’s a huge relief.”
“Monday. Perfect. What time will you arrive?”
“Fine. I will send Krishan to collect you from the airport. Lunch is with us.”
“Oh no, please don’t worry ab – “
But she was cut short by Mrs. Dewan, “And I can show you your new place. It makes more sense to come directly from the airport than coming all the way from your friend Kavita’s place later; I assume that’s where you will be once you’re back?”
“Yes….I think that would make sense……” she agreed. Might as well see the place. And since it would be Monday, there would be no chance of running into Madhav. This time she planned to stay clear of him.
“It does. And it’s neat, clean, in a very good area and the security is excellent. And,” she seemed delighted to say, “It’s not even too far away from your school! I checked all the factors before I thought of suggesting it to you.”
“That is so nice of you, Mrs. Dewan.” She said feeling truly overwhelmed by the other woman’s thoughtfulness.
“Please don’t mention it. So don’t forget to message me your flight details. And do remember to give my regards to your parents. I am sure they are a wonderful couple to have brought up a daughter as fine as you. Good bye my dear. God bless you.”
“Who was that?” asked her mother once she had hung up.
“Mrs. Dewan.” Her mother was well acquainted with who that was because the name because Radhika shared everything with her mother. And everything so far except the wild attraction she felt for Mrs. Dewan’s sinfully handsome widowed son. There was nothing to tell really because it had been just an aberration and now she was going to put a firm lid on it.
“How come she called? Anything important?” her mother asked her as they were lingering over tall glasses of nimboo paani.
“Aditya wanted to say hello.” She smiled. “And she says I don’t have to worry about finding a place when I come back.”
“Uh-Uh” she nodded.
“Has she found a place?” her mother asked.
“She says she has.” She nodded.
“That’s nice. Where is it?”
“She didn’t say. Only that it is in good area with excellent security and not far from my school either. Sounds ideal don’t you think Ma?”
“Too Ideal I think.” Her mother muttered.
Radhika burst out laughing at that and hugged her mother affectionately, “Oh Ma, you are so unbelievable sometimes!”
She got a look at that, “You should be too.”
“It’s okay Ma,” she smiled indulgently and assured her mother. “She knows what I am looking for Ma. She had volunteered to help remember?”
Her mother nodded.
“Why are you worried so Ma?” she put an arm around her mother’s shoulder and explained. “She is going to show it to me the day I arrive in Mumbai. It makes sense instead of coming all the way from Kavita and Mohan’s later. If I don’t like it I won’t take it.” She added reasonably.
“And if you don’t like it how long will you stay at Kavita and Mohan’s? Is this really how you want to do things? I mean looking for difficulties in life? You don’t even have a place to stay! Think about it beta. Why can’t you do a job here? You know how we all feel about that. Papa didn’t even want you to do a job in the first place. Why do you need to?”
“Ma, we’ve been through this. I want to do this.Please.”
“And we’ve barely got two weeks of your entire vacation!” her complained further.
“Once you are done with this crazy concept of independence you come back here!” her mother said.
She laughed. “Yes Ma.”
“And.” Said her mother.
“You’ve never said anything about this father of Aditya’s?”
“Mom!” Mothers had internal radar senses! It was really no use, so she confessed some of it to her mother, “I didn’t say because he is very good lookingMa. And I find him so attractive. But,” She held up her hand. “I know better. I am terribly sensible remember? And anyway there’s no fear of anything. I told you he is a widower. I saw a picture of his wife. She was unbelievably beautiful. Believe me ma, the irreplaceable variety. No woman can ever be more than a passing fancy for him.”
“Good so you make sure you keep that in mind.”
“Of course Ma.”
“Okay,” said her mother, “so how do you find Tarun?”
“Not yet Ma!”
“All I did was ask! And you know Suchitra is always dropping hints whenever we meet.” She said of one of her friends.
“I’ll tell you when the time comes. Promise.”
Her mother, what a dear she was, let it drop there.
The following Monday when her father said goodbye to her at the airport, he sounded less understanding than her mother.
“Ma has told me about this place you are going to see. If you decide on it I want all the details and if you don’t find it suitable I will give you another two weeks to look for a place. In the meantime you have no alternative but to stay at Kavita’s. After that I would want you to quit and come back. Is that okay?” he asked gently.
She understood what he meant, his anxieties and his indulgences. She understood she was still his little girl. And she loved him for it. She nodded, “Yes Papa.”
By the time her plane touched down in Mumbai, she was buoyant. With a firm resolve to forget about the attraction she felt for Madhav Dewan and to stay well away from him she felt a new surge of enthusiasm. She pushed to the back of her mind the last time she had seen him. His languid eyes and slow smile. The strength of his hard body and his dark, low voice. And the way he had all but hi jacked her into having coffee with him. And then teased her later before confessing, “You. It’s you”, in that husky voice while he looked deep into her eyes.
Yes, he had shown all that interest in her. Laughed with her, teased her, held hands with her, kissed her. Yes ithad been real and yes it was going to be very tough resisting all that charm especially when she had loved every bit of his attention. But resist she would. Resist she should. Because it was as clear as crystal that with him there was not even a remote chance of happily ever after. And she wanted happily ever after. She did not live in an idealistic bubble but she wanted that one man to love her forever. Sure life came with no guarantees but she was not going to walk the path that she already knew would never end where she wanted it to. So armed with this firm decision she landed at Mumbai airport. No further involvement with Madhav Dewan.
And therefore she got the surprise of her life when waiting to pick her up was not Krishan, the Dewans’ driver as she had expected but Madhav Dewan himself.
She stopped abruptly when she saw him. And stood rooted to the spot as he came towards her. Oh Lord how gorgeous was this man! Every feature was perfect. There was just that much of hardness to lend strengthand character to him. Languid, unreadable eyes in a face that was turning every female head as he walked towards her. Tall, masculine and undeniably sexy. He had come for her, that as all she could think about. Nothing else mattered. Her heart fluttered madly as he drew closer. All the firm resolutions and lectures to self went flying into oblivion. And then he was right there in front of her.
“Hello.” His voice was low and as gravelly as she remembered.
“Hello.” She smiled feeling embarrassingly shy. She needed to gather herself. After all she hadn’t seen himmelting away at the sight of her had she? So what if he had had the advantage of knowing that he was going tobe seeing her and she hadn’t? The heady pleasure had to be the same for him surely?
“Come on.” He took her elbow in one hand and her bag in the other and wheeling it forward headed towards the exit.
Once again she was back sitting beside him in his SUV watching his capable hands as he maneuvered the car into the heavy traffic. “How was your vacation?” he asked his eyes on the road.
“Very good. Thank you. How is Aunty? How is Aditya? I was expecting Krishan to come to the airport… that’s what ..…” her voice drifted away as finally she became aware of his quiet behavior. She realized he hadn’t really leapt with joy on seeing her. It was just that half smile and an impersonal hello. What was going on? What had she missed?
“Is everything okay?” she asked a little uncertainly.
He didn’t immediately answer. Instead he questioned curtly, “How could you agree to this?”
She turned her head around to look at him. What was he talking about? Had she missed something? As usual he was talking in riddles. Her euphoria and joyousmood were fast evaporating like water in the heat.
“Agree to what?” she asked.
“Oh please!” He muttered. She watched as he clenched and unclenched his hands on the steering wheel.
“Can we cut the ignorance?” He said icily.
Her mood was fast getting replaced with anger now, “Of course; as soon as I know what you are talking about.” she replied just as icily.
“I have said so earlier and I will repeat: don’t try to worm your way into my life. First through my son and now through my mother!” he said.
She gasped audibly as what he was saying sunk into her brain.
“I see you are going to insist on playing the innocent as usual.” He said when she still failed to process an answer.
“This place my mother told you about”, he continued, “I’m sure you’ve gathered by now what she had really been talking about?”
She looked at him blankly before a horrible suspicion crept into her brain…….no, it couldn’t be. Or could it? She felt nauseous. Was she really that stupid? It felt so at the moment. She sucked in a breath and said warily.
“I ‘m not sure…” she began uncertainly.
He took in a deep breath as he changed gears. “I think you are. You can’t be that naïve. Don’t tell me the obvious never occurred to you?” he asked her.
She gasped. Okay so it hadn’t. But what was wrong with him? How dare he speak so cuttingly to her? Who did he think he was? Where did he think he got off talking to her like that?
“It did actually to my mother.” She said trying to reign in the spurt of anger she could feel rising fast inside her.
“And?” he prompted icily.
“And she told me to stay well away from the likes of you!” she snapped angrily.
“Then why didn’t you take her advice?” he snapped back.
“Stop the car.” She said. Enough, she had had enough. She had come from Delhi with such a positive, confident, fresh and buoyant mood. And what was this?
“Are you kidding me?” he asked incredulously. “Do you see the traffic?”
“I see the traffic and I also see you.” She fumed. “And I don’t care. I said stop the car. Or do you want me to jump out?” she threatened.
“Go ahead try it!” he invited. “I’d like to see how you can do that with central locking.”
Madhav gripped the wheel tighter. He couldn’t believe he was fighting like this! He was supposed to have spoken to her with firm but icy politeness and put his message across. Instead this…..this was ridiculous! So not like him. He was always under control. But all of this was her fault. She brought all this out in him. This mad compulsive out of character behavior that he never seemed to be able to control around her.
She had appeared in front of him, looking so fresh and attractive in an all white flowing churidaar kurta and white flats. Looking so pretty and so innocent. But he knew of course that all this was just a front. Who better than him to know about what really lay beneath so much beauty?
Tears of anger, frustration and humiliation threatened to spill from Radhika’s eyes. It was back to the same. Two minutes in his company and she was back to being insulted. And to think she couldn’t believe her happiness when she had seen him at the airport! Sheshould have known better, when was she ever going to learn from her mistakes with this man? One look at him and all her promises to self had disappeared in a puff. When was ever going to see past the outward charm and see him for the obnoxious, over bearing arrogant snake that he was?
“I am glad to see you have finally decided to calm down.” He was now saying. “Look, my mother has these weird ideas in her head and not only is she idealistic abut also extremely fanciful, impractical and vulnerable. So as you have already figured out the outhouse has been all spruced up and ready for you to move into and – “
“-And,” she interrupted him angrily, “I don’t need to be a scientist to figure out that you don’t want me occupying anything within your holy space. Well you can rest in peace. Like I said my mother told me to stay away from you. And I find I‘m not too fond of rattle snakes myself. So you can rest assured that you and your outhouse are safe from me. I hope that has satisfactorily served the purpose of coming all the way and spending your valuable time on coming to pick me up at the airport and doing your damage control? Now you can drop me off at the first lights we come to.” With that she turned away to look out of the window in mutinous silence.
But that was not to be because a moment later he spoke, “Finished?” he asked caustically, “Now will you let me speak?’
“No.” she whipped her head around again, “And just for your information: I did not even know it was your outhouse she was talking about. I thought it was going to be a place belonging to someone known to her. Does that satisfy your suspicious, conceited, arrogant mind? Of course it doesn’t I can see that. Think what you will. I am out of your life. Now. At the next lights. And yes before you have to ‘spell it out’, I will say no to your mother.” She finished.
“No you won’t.” he said.
“What?” had she heard him right? Was she slow or was he insane?
“You,” he said through clenched teeth, “are not going to play ping pong with my mother’s feelings. For all the genuine affection she has shown you, you at least owe her that.” Just when she thought she would explode with confusion he continued, “You are going to stay exactly at the outhouse but you are going to have to give up any ideas about…”
“You. Of course.” He was unbelievable and she told him too. “You’re unbelievable, do you know that? And now that you mention it, I agree actually; I think your decision is an excellent one. I really have no business hurting your mother, the fine lady that she is. On the other hand much as you’d like to flatter yourself, let me admit that while I might have felt a certain attraction towards you, you are not the only man I have ever been attracted to. In fact now that I think of it,” she gathered steam now, “what did I ever see in you? I don’t usually go for grouchy, conceited, arrogant, selfish, snide and nasty middle aged men like you!” she stopped to draw breath, “In fact I owe you a big thank you. For saving me from the misfortune of falling under your deceptive and utterly false charms. Not when there are so many eligible men I could be engaging myself with. In fact I think I will do just that. Or do you also have a moral code of behavior I have to adhere to while I stay at the outhouse?” She finished sarcastically, still seething with anger.
Suddenly the car braked and she lurched forward. She would have hurt herself had it not been for the seatbelt. She whipped her head around to glare at him only dimly aware that he had pulled to the shoulder of a bye lane.
She almost quailed at the burning anger she saw in his eyes before he spoke, “That’s it. You are going to have to curb that fiery tongue of yours. Do you understand me?”
“Or what?” she lifted her chin, “You don’t threaten me. You don’t own me and you definitely don’t have any right to give me orders!” she said defiantly.
“Is that right? Someone ought to tame that fiery angerof yours. So while you’re at it, make sure you don’tsettle for a spineless wimp when you go out looking for ‘so many eligible men you could be engaging yourself with.’” He scorned nastily.
“I hate you.” She declared.
“Go ahead. It’s easier all around. Now put on a smile,” he said putting the car into gear again, “we will be there in two minutes.”
But determined to have the last word in this she said, “And don’t worry I’m not a free loader. I will pay for my stay.”
In response all she got was an ominous glare.
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Purva Mehta Books
by Purva Mehta
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