Yash immediately rushed towards her with the papers and his rifle. He stood aiming the rifle at her head and released her hand ties. He nudged her shoulders with his knee. “Now…sign this quickly…”
Preeti’s hand was numb because she had been tied and her injury was bleeding. She winced.
“STAY AWAY FROM HER YOU… IF SHE IS HURT ANYMORE YOU WILL HAVE TO PAY HEAVILY YASH…” Gautam’s voice boomed.
Yash laughed aloud. “Welcome Gautam…welcome… I was waiting for you. One stupid move you make and the shot will blow her head into bits… So now come out right here with your weapon thrown away…. And my men here can see you when you come so DON’T YOU DARE DO ANYTHING YOU WILL REGRET…”
There was no noise at all. Preeti was almost losing consciousness… something was wrong with her… She had nothing in her stomach now but still felt like throwing up… The place wasn’t stinking like that day twelve years ago but still she felt as if she could sense the foul odour… she heaved again.
“Stop the drama Preeti and quickly sign in both the locations marked with a cross….” He dropped the papers and the pen on it. As Preeti lifted the pen she felt as if she was blackening out. As she looked up to control the bout of nausea passing through, she saw him. He was staring at her from the roof. He had silently removed a tile and they didn’t even know. He gestured her to be silent. She looked down and picked the papers as yet another bout of nausea passed and the papers started moving side by side… they started to dance… so did the walls around her. What was happening? She felt the nudge again from Yash and then she heard the loud sound as Gautam crashed in through the roof. The walls started shaking further and before she realised anything else she blacked out.
She heard the beep… was she back… twelve years back … in to the hospital? Her body was heavy. But this time she could open her eyes. Oh God she was in the hospital. Her hand was held tightly… “Preeti…sweetheart…are you alright dear?” Gautam’s voice vibrated through her senses. She nodded as she felt nausea threaten her.
He released her hand and pressed a buzzer… must be for the doctor, she thought missing his contact. She was shuddering even to think about being in the hospital. He helped her sit up a little and held the water cup with the straw. She took it but immediately wanted to throw up. She then saw him. He was looking haggard. There was a bandage covering his head and wrist. Her eyes widened. But before she could speak the doctor entered the room with his entourage of staff. The doctor examined her and checked the vitals.
“So Mr. Rathore… you can now stop threatening the staff here. Your wife is fine now. There is no injury of any sort. Blood reports will be up soon but I am sure they are fine. You can take her home tomorrow. I shall check on her tomorrow morning again…” The doctor said.
Gautam thanked him and dropped him at the door. He waited outside till the nurses sponged and changed her. He then entered the room and latched the door. She had realised it was late in the evening.
Preeti looked at him staring at her. His eyes had welled up as he stood at the far end with hands on his hips. Her one hand was hooked to the IV. She raised the other and nodded him to come to her. He strode quickly covering the few steps and hugged her. He was shaking as he sobbed. He kissed her head numerous times. “Oh God Preeti you scared me there… I couldn’t lose you…”
She patted his back controlling tears of her own. “Hey darling…its ok… I knew you would come for me.”
Gautam wiped his tears and sat on the adjoining chair holding her hand.
“Gautam…what happened there?” she was desperate to know.
“Sweetheart… It took me all of ten minutes to get those three morons out of commission and bound. Tanveer has their custody as we speak. He… er…he is going to visit us tomorrow. But Preeti…those ten minutes…till I could feel your pulse…were the worst ten minutes of my life…” She tightened her grasp on his hand. He took it to his mouth and kissed her.
“Gautam… those papers… My hand is still…” she was feeling bad for him.
“Let it go Preeti…” He sighed. “…I don’t need that anymore….”
“What? why…your mother…”
“…Is long dead…” He bent his head. She caressed his head and he looked up tears shining in those stricken brown eyes. “…That Romila Devi…she had lied all these years… my mother had cancer… so she had to give me up. Mentor had known as well… She had died soon after. Preeti…” He had that faraway look. “…Romila Devi used that string to tighten the noose around my neck… for so many years… and I was a fool to…get involved. I should have known. She was a lying bitch…”
He was panting in anger. Her heart broke for him.
“Gautam… sweetheart…let it go… Living in the past is only going to bring more pain…”
He nodded. “I know Preeti…I have forgiven her. She doesn’t deserve even my hatred. She confessed to the police that Vikram had once told her about some hidden treasure in the fort and she wanted that. She was as twisted as her son… She has another huge blow. Narmada has disowned her. I think that’s punishment enough…”
“Gautam…it’s difficult to believe my docile brother Yash had so much of hatred imbibed for years…”
“Preeti, your family is in a state of shock as well. They were here last evening when we brought you… I refused to allow anyone near you, before I saw to it that you were OK. I have phoned them. They will meet you tomorrow morning before I take you home.”
Her eyes filled thinking about her family. He came close to her and sat next to her on the bed. She rested her head on his chest.
“Rewa was here as well with Suyash sometime back….”
Preeti was alert once again. “What…what did she say?”
“I asked her how she had met Vikram….for the first time… she spoke about some devi temple which you visited once in a while as a family… Apparently Vikram saw her during one such event and approached her… she fell for him instantly.”
Preeti remembered now, Rewa had been excited on their return during one of their mandatory family visit to the temple. She never liked it because of the restrictions she had to face otherwise at home. She hated the show off… Rewa too used to hate it but for a last couple of visits she had loved it. It now made sense.
Preeti was hurting for everyone. Her sister who had fallen for the wrong guy which resulted in Yash collaborating on a mean scheme of things. For her family who lost their sons…one dead and one probably spending his life in jail or a psychiatric ward. Irrespective of what he had done, she felt Yash was a victim of circumstances. She didn’t know if she could ever forgive him but… She hurt for Gautam who had struggled with his demons for last twelve years and finally for herself for being collateral damage everywhere… Right then she made an important decision.
“Gautam… I want to see Gaurang immediately…. Please…”
“Whoa… wait…what is it Preeti?”
“Gautam… have you realised the root cause of all the malice… that happened in our lives…I mean we all are responsible for actions… but here the fort was a catalyst. It ruined lives… I don’t want upcoming generations to bear the brunt of inheritance…” She said running out of breath.
“Preeti…relax dear. I will support you with whatever you decide… Tomorrow I will call Gaurang when your folks are here. But right now just rest…alright?”
He helped her lie on the bed and took his position next to her on the chair holding her hand. She knew he wouldn’t be sleeping however much he was hurting. She looked at his bandages. He saw her and said, “I am fine Preeti… go to sleep.” He kissed her hand.
She smiled as she closed her eyes…the incident that happened twelve years ago gave her the most precious gift…her husband. Later that evening, as she saw him take the dinner trolley provided by the hospital she wondered what if she hadn’t gone to school that fateful day twelve years ago? She wouldn’t have had this gem of a man in her life… no wonder maasa always said, ‘everything happens for a reason…’
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