The next morning Ria stirred in bed snuggling back into the soft comforter and then the events of the last evening jarred up her senses and she was instantly awake. It was 9AM… what…? Never before in her life had she woken up after 7AM. What would appa say? But… she realized with a start that no one would say anything now and that slowed down her racing heart. She freshened up and wore another gown purchased for her. She loved the soft cotton material and color choice. She loved the way the gown fell upto her ankles flaring a little around her hips bringing out her figure in a flattering way. Would Gaurav like the fit…. she wondered as she looked into the full-length mirror. She was smiling as she came out to the hall but smile was gone when she saw the empty place. Even without asking anyone or checking out she knew that Gaurav was not at home and was utterly disappointed. But then what was she expecting…? She heard Keith in the kitchen and went there to fix a breakfast for her rumbling tummy.
“…Yes sir…. Ok sir, got it…” she heard Keith speak as she entered the kitchen. Keith turned around from the window where he stood speaking on the mobile phone. He nodded to her and smiled as he continued, “…. yes sir. She is here. Do you want to speak…? uh…ok sir.” He disconnected the call.
“Was that Gaurav on the line?”
“Yes Mrs. Chopra….” He replied.
Ria laughed and said, “…Keith… what the hell…? please call me Ria. I feel so out of place anyways…. Can you make this less formal for me…?”
Keith smiled and nodded. “When alone I will call you by your name. But in front of Sir and anyone else or any other location besides home I will address you as Ma’am…Strict instructions from Sir….”
Ria sighed and nodded looking at his phone questioningly. Keith was still smiling as he said, “Sir has asked you to have the breakfast of your choice and relax. Chef Keith at your service…” He bowed in a mock gesture and she laughed, all the tension draining away. “…In case you need to go somewhere … like shopping, temple…just anywhere, just say it and I will take you there…”
Ria was amused. She had been fiercely independent all her life and this was strange now… “Its ok Keith. I will cook something for myself. And I can go shopping later on my own. You don’t have to bother…”
Keith abruptly said, “…Following orders Ria. You may check your phone for messages. Sir has sent you a few. Please be seated at the dining table. I will get you some piping hot Masala upma and filter coffee…”
If Ria had been surprised before, this took the cake. “How do you…um… this is my favorite breakfast ….”
Keith replied as he got back to the preparations. “…Not me, Ria. Sir had the kitchen stocked yesterday as per your choice of food. He is the one who knows what you like…” He turned back towards the stove when he suddenly stopped and turned around again. “…And Ria….thank you… once again for everything… but mostly for coming into his life… He is…a good man.”
“…um…Ok Keith… I get it…” she said her heart soaring with joy. “…Can you at least tell me where he is?”
“I think you should check the messages Ria. Sir may want you to reply back.” Keith said as he turned to make the breakfast.
Ria went back to her room to hunt for her mobile. She had never bothered to check any messages throughout last evening. As expected, her phone battery had drained out. She kept it for charging in the drawing room and sat on the nearest armchair even as she started reading out her message. Before she knew, her message box was flooded with congratulatory messages from all her friends and acquaintances…
Oh, my goodness… how did everyone know about her wedding?
The one from Preeti read. ‘So… darling Chupa rustum… you come for a job and married the bossman himself… eh…? All OK dear…? I am worried… I hope you dint make any hasty decision… call me…’
Preeti had sent an attachment with her congratulations. She opened it and was shocked to see her wedding pic was published in an online newspaper
MOST ELIGIBLE BACHELOR FINALLY TIES THE KNOT.
In the recent turn of events industrialist and scion of Chopra group of hospitals, Gaurav Chopra tied the knot with Ria Narsimhan in an intimate ceremony attended by select close friends. It is to be noted that it was Ms. Narsimhan’s testimony that had played a crucial part in bailing Gaurav out of a messy trial involving the assault and alleged rape of an ex-employee. So, is this payback time? Ms. Narsimhan’s parents were conspicuous by their absence and repeated attempts to contact them for comment proved futile…….
Ria closed the message window. She hated publicity especially after what had transpired those days following the trial. Right from her character assassinations to digging up dirt against her family, she had felt so… exposed, she hated the media. And now this…
Wait… if the news had come online then It probably would have made it to the newspaper stand as well. Ria groaned inwardly as she went to check the days newspapers. There were four of them and each had a front-page picture of her wedding day followed by an article based on the journalist’s views. As she forced her breakfast down, she read some of those articles. She couldn’t make out if they were making fun of the couple or wishing them. She was lost in though and was startled when her phone rang.
She rushed to the armchair and saw her screen. It flashed, Private Number. Her heart was galloping…. as it always did around Gaurav.
“Where were you? I tried calling you and then left messages. Are you… ok?” Gaurav sounded concerned.
“…I…Um…I am fine Gaurav…. um… are you working today…?” She asked.
“Uh… yes. The meeting was unavoidable. But listen, do not go out anywhere without Keith. Do you understand…?”
There was a change of tone which she couldn’t understand. Wait…why?
“Why do I need a bodyguard Gaurav?” Ria asked again…
She heard him sigh and say, “…Will you please stop resisting and listen… Ria? I will explain things to you gradually… But for now, wherever you go, Keith goes too. Got it…?”
Ria didn’t like to be treated with kid gloves but she was in no mood to start an argument over phone. Also something in his tone scared her. So, she just replied, “Fine…. I understand. And um… umm… did you see the newspapers today…?”
There was a pause. He then said softly, “yes…I did. See you later”.
And he disconnected…
Gaurav looked at his phone screen, staring at Ria’s picture…it was one taken yesterday at the wedding and she didn’t even know. He felt like a creep hiding things from her but till he was convinced his past hadn’t returned to haunt him and the others he cared about, he couldn’t involve her in the mess. The lesser she knew the better it was. Ria had asked him about the newspapers. Of course, he had seen them for he was the one who had got them published. He needed closure on that front especially after all that media trial during his recent case. Though he had legitimate reasons for the same, he hated himself for it. He knew it would be torturous for Ria to see her pictures splashed all over the media. She had had enough already following those days of the trial. After the emotional roller coaster, she had been through last couple of days; this was the last she needed. But he had seen too much of these debacles and knew it would pass soon and the media would lose interest since they were now a boring married couple. He hated leaving her back at home. Luckily for him he had his man Friday Keith who conveyed everything happening on the home front to him. He had taken the coward’s way out.
He remembered Ria standing in her room yesterday with a forlorn look on her pretty face. He had felt her cry silently on their way home from her parents’. How he hated them for making her miserable. He knew, in spite of everything, she loved her family and had gone to the extreme… married him… to save them from all the so-called mess she had apparently put them into. He wanted to take her in his arms and let her cry into his chest…like that night in Parijath…. He wanted to comfort her and hold her till she was drained out totally. Then he would have wanted to carry her to his room and lay her on his bed spooning her and the very thought gave him peace. He knew that if he had taken the first step, she would have caved in. But he also knew that it was her weak moment and he didn’t want to take any advantage of her emotional turmoil. With a reluctant mind he had dragged himself out of her room.
He had wanted to check on her later before going to bed. Neither of them had eaten anything but he was concerned if Ria was going to sleep hungry. He went towards her door. It was closed and the lights were off but something had told him she wasn’t asleep. He waited for a while hoping that they could speak…she could vent out…hell…he wanted to talk to her. But he let go and got back to his room.
The nightmare had come again. In the last couple of years, the frequencies had reduced but whenever they came, he would be drained out totally and be sleep-deprived for the next couple of days. But surprisingly this time the intensity of the nightmare was lower. He wasn’t weeping like he usually did when he woke up from it. He knew it had to be because of the person next door. He had wondered if she was disturbed by his cries and had walked towards her room desperate to seek her company. But something stopped him and he had dragged himself back to his bed. Sleep eluded him but this time he didn’t feel the paucity of the same and he wasn’t tired.
He had few hours of sleep and woke up at his usual time at 4AM followed by work-out in his home gym. Every time his thoughts would go towards Ria’s bedroom, he would want to see her and imagining her sleeping peacefully with her lips slightly apart turned him hard instantly. God…he had it bad. Keith was there by 6AM and his breakfast was ready by 6.45AM. Keith was surprised but the man never asked personal questions. He left right on schedule for office at 7.15AM. Today however, he wasn’t interested in doing anything. He wanted to meet Ria, talk to her, have breakfast with her. But he knew she would see the newspapers and probably breakdown. Ria was a strong girl but there were things even strong people couldn’t withstand. He would have held her, comforted her. But he couldn’t afford to lose control before her of=r show her his vulnerability.
So, he had sneaked out of his house and come to his office. He had decided to spend the entire day here and go home only late in the evening. This would be his schedule for a while at least… it would be the best for both of them. As he sipped the horrid machine-made tea…. he only thought of those almond eyes.
Someday… he decided right then…someday soon she would be his, his forever.
Three days… Three goddamn days… and he had ghosted her…
Something was wrong. Something was bothering Gaurav. Ria knew he was attracted to her just like she was to him. Then why did he not want to speak with her? She didn’t have his mobile number as yet. But he wasn’t taking her calls in office too. Three days…. she had spent three whole days waiting for him. Then she had gone shopping with Megha. Keith was keeping a watch though subtly while she had lunch with Megha while Megha spoke about her complications in early pregnancy and Manek. But not a word about Gaurav, however much Ria tried probing her. Eventually, she gave up. Just before they had parted Megha had hugged her and said “Hey Ria… you are good for him”. Those words kept her smiling all through the day. Megha had left for Delhi later to her maternal home for her delivery. She had come down just for their wedding.
Back home she wanted to talk to someone besides Keith. She contemplated calling Preeti or Padma…but she knew they would still be full of questons especially with the newspaper fiasco and they would need details. What would she tell them?
She spent time in the beautiful garden where Keith told her stories about different plants and kept her entertained. In one corner of the garden she saw few paintings of flowers…. nature painting. The most beautiful she had ever seen. Again, she saw the initials GC on each of them and Keith confirmed Gaurav had done those. When it came to Gaurav, Keith had been a good listener but he never shared anything about his employer or his life.
Last evening, he even allowed her to cook dinner. He was a sport and helped her prepare the elaborate spread. She prepared Dum aloo, palak paneer, jeera rice, daal fry and raita. All were Gaurav’s favorite food items. Keith was always around till Gaurav came home. But when he didn’t turn up even at 10PM, she was exhausted and sleep had claimed her. She had slept on the couch in the hall but had woken up in her bed at around 7AM today morning. She hadn’t even stirred when Gaurav had carried her in…
She quickly freshened up and rushed out to catch up with Gaurav. To her dismay he had just left and she had rushed to the balcony only to see his car move out of the gate. Tears filled her eyes as she wondered for the umpteenth time what was wrong in their marriage. Though it was a marriage of convenience… a contract based one, it was still a marriage after all. Couldn’t they just talk like a normal couple? Was it something to do with her?
She wiped her tears and went back into the drawing room where Keith had kept her breakfast ready. The lovely aroma of the sambhar had her mouth-watering and she had the lip-smacking idli sambhar and her coffee. She took the dishes to the kitchen where Keith looked at her with understanding written in his eyes. But as usual he didn’t say anything and she was grateful for that. She thanked him and went back to her room where she spent the morning researching for designs for her new centre. Just after lunch when she considered taking a catnap, her phone pinged with an incoming message. She was excited. Would it be Gaurav? She quickly unlocked her phone and checked but there was an unknown but visible number this time. Her excitement was short lived when she read the contents.
‘Meet me tomorrow 10AM. It’s about your husband. Things you should know. You have been kept in the dark. Time for secrets to come out. Will message location tonight. And… lose the watchdog… cu’
What on earth was this? A freakily cryptic message… What secrets?? Ria was plagued by thoughts. Was this some kind of a joke? Swara’s warning played in her mind. But she knew everyone wanted a piece of information about Gaurav…. from her. Just after the trial the media had hounded her and it was sheer torture. Luckily it was over quickly, within days. Otherwise it would have been a living hell for her family. Was the sender of this message too someone who wanted bytes from her? And did he/she just refer to Keith as a watchdog? That means… she thought with a shudder, the sender knew Keith was to accompany her everywhere…? Howcome…? She had only gone out a couple of times…
After contemplating different options and getting no respite she messaged back:
‘Who is this? Kindly identify yourself’
She got a reply immediately.
‘You will know everything once we meet. It’s important for many people and not just you. If you don’t meet me this time, you will continue the farce called marriage. That Asshole doesn’t deserve you.’
Ria was angry:
‘You just called my husband names and you expect me to believe you? Just…who the hell ru?’
Again, there was a quick reply:
‘Apologies if ur feelings are hurt. Just meet me once, Ria. Just….save urself. Please meet me once. JUST ONCE….’
Ria’s anxiety levels had reached epic heights. After thinking for about an hour she made up her mind
‘I clearly feel ur deluded and I don’t want to be a part of ur brigade. I am not interested in anything remotely linked with my husband’s past…’
Wow that felt good. Immediately she got a reply,
‘UR the one deluding urself. Ur living in a fool’s paradise. U WILL regret this. He is not who u think he is. Meet me once….’
Ria blocked the number.
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