Preeti woke up with a knock on her door. She stretched her limbs and quickly wore her robe before opening the door. Gautam stood dressed in his trademark style of black jeans and t-shirt, holding a tray of breakfast. She stood aside as he walked in and placed the trey on the night stand. He looked at her and took a hand forward but dropped it and looked away. Taking a deep breath he said, “Preeti have your breakfast and then get freshened up. Dress casual and meet me down in half an hour from now. We are going to Kota which is quite a distance from here. If we start early we can reach on time….” As he moved to go out she held his hand.
“Wait Gautam…what’s going on? I want some answers and right now…otherwise I am not going anywhere…”
He turned to her and rubbed his face. It was then she saw how fatigued he was. “Look Preeti…don’t argue with me on this. Please. I promise to tell you everything. But this is very important and we have to be there at the earliest. So… just get ready and come downstairs…” He said in a neutral tone… but it felt like a threat.
She folded her hands and looked into his eyes. “I am not a puppet alright? I have just had enough… for whatever secrets all of you have in your lives… I am the sacrificial goat here. But you know what Mister Gautam or Vikram or whoever you are… I REFUSE. I refuse to abide unless I am given valid answers…”
He held her hand at the elbow and pulled her towards him so that their chests met. With his other hand he held her hair at the nape of her neck and spoke with his jaw clenched. “I am not going to repeat myself anymore. You will not ask me any further questions. We have a lot of work to do and have very little time. If…If you delay anymore your family especially your poor old Maasa will pay the price for your impudence.” He suddenly released her and she fell a few steps backwards rubbing her arm where he had held her. Hands on his hips he went to the door and said without looking at her. “…just half an hour…” He banged the door shut.
Tears flowed down her cheeks. Was he the same guy who had been so caring few hours ago? She thought as she rubbed her arm. His fingers had made intent on her fair skin. Somehow she felt cornered from all sides. She didn’t know what she had ever done to deserve this… her suffering had begun twelve years ago but there was no sign of it ending. Would she ever move on? Till now she had been dependent on her saviour… Gautam. But now she was all alone…
She knew she had no choice at the moment. She decided to wait and strike when the iron became hot. With that determination she quickly had her breakfast of grilled vegetable sandwich and hot coffee. Whatever it was…the man could cook a mean meal.
She had a quick shower and selected a black trouser and yellow ochre coloured blouse to go with it. She had her flat black pumps which she had worn yesterday… The memories got in fresh tears but she blinked them away. She would overcome this she decided. Her phone was charged but switched off. Did he charge it? When? Shaking her head, she took her little purse and sunglasses kept in the closet drawer she reached downstairs a little before the stipulated half an hour. He was waiting with hands in his pocket looking outside lost in thought. He turned when he heard her come. He gave her a once over appreciation evident in his eyes. She had used the hair iron to straighten her curls. So her hair fell on her shoulders in little waves. He wore his jacket which he had hung on a hook and moved towards her.
“…Lets go Gautam….or should I call you Vikram? Let’s just get done with it.” she said firmly and holding her head high walked towards the front door. Gautam followed her and as usual she was struggling with the door latch. What was wrong with these people and their latches? Once again she felt him close up behind her. She held her breath… he placed both his hands on the door locking her in his embrace with his chest barely touching her back but nonetheless sending shivers down her body. Her body was such a traitor she thought, when it came to Gautam. She seemed to have no control… She felt him breathe in her shampoo…
He moved his mouth close to her ear and the world stilled as he whispered, “You cannot run from weakness…. Fight it out or perish… and if fight be so…why not now and … where you stand?” Before she could fathom his words he left her, opening the latch. The door opened and she walked out. What had just happened?
Their car was ready and Gautam was to drive. She checked the time. It was 8.30 AM. Kota was about seven hours from here. Would he drive for seven long hours? Well the Gautam she knew could do anything she thought with admiration. She caught herself. She was a nut case or developing strong symptoms of the Stockholm syndrome. She shook her head and sat on the passenger side in the front. She plugged in the headphones and played her favourite song list on the mobile. That way she wouldn’t have to talk to him. She didn’t even give him a glance as they drove through the streets of Alwar.
She must have dozed off listening to music and jerked up awake when the car stopped. She removed the ear plugs as her ears were aching. She checked her watch it was 11.30 AM. He had driven for 3 hours straight? Gautam didn’t give her a second glance and got out of the car. He looked around… what seemed to be a motel. There was nothing around besides that and it was terribly hot. She saw him walk to the Motel entrance and she too got out of the car. Her phone pinged with an incoming message. She wondered who it was. She had sent an email earlier from the car to her boss informing him she would not be coming for a while and would intimate him. She didn’t know if she would have her job at the end of this ordeal but now that was the least of her worries. She checked her mobile and saw the incoming text from Senior Inspector, Crime Branch Tanveer Raisingh. Oh God what did he want now. In the entire commotion she had pushed him to the back of her mind. She opened the text.
‘Congratulations on the wedding Ms. Sengar or should I Say Mrs. Rathore? Please remember our discussion. You have to help me help Gautam….’
She wondered if she should speak to Gautam about everything that happened those years ago. But he had closed himself up so tightly she wondered how she could penetrate that hard hide…
Just then Gautam emerged from the motel and walked upto her. “Preeti if you want to use the washroom you may do so. I checked, It’s clean. We will be directly stopping for lunch after only another two hours. So if you want to eat something its here.”
She shook her head. She wasn’t hungry. But her bladder needed relief. He accompanied her inside the motel and directed her to the ladies washroom. He waited outside as she entered the washroom. She looked around and saw four tiny cubicles inside. All seemed empty. She went to the last one and relieved herself. Simultaneously she made a call and waited for it to connect. It was taking time and she was getting nervous by the passing seconds. As she finished washing her hands with the phone stuck between her ear and shoulder, the call connected. She again rushed back to the cubicle.
“Hello?” She whispered.
“Yes Ms. Sengar…I believe you got my message?” It was Tanveer Raisingh.
“Ye..yes… um I have something to tell you… quickly.”
“OK…please go on…Ms. Sengar.”
“We are on our way to Kota. I don’t know why? But I am somehow linked to this….” She said in a rush.
“…OK Ms Sengar I will put your phone on tracking and we will know your location. I will find out what I can. Meanwhile please act normal. He is too sharp and will figure out something is wrong.”
“Um Yes… but… Sir?”
“…I know Ms. Sengar… I know you are worried…But be rest assured your name won’t be taken at all… No one would know of your involvement…”
“..It’s… it’s not me I am worried about sir. No harm should come on Gautam as well…. Can you promise me?”
“Ms. Sengar, trust me I am on your side. I want him to be free from all suspicion. I promise I will do everything in my capacity to bring out the truth…”
“Ok Sir… bye…”
“Bye Ms. Sengar. Take care and call me anytime…..and…delete all our messages.”
She nodded to herself and cut the call. She washed her hands all over again and straightened her clothes. Giving a last look in the mirror she left. Gautam was pacing the reception area and halted when he saw her.
“I was about to send a search party after you. I had told you it’s so important to reach on time…” he sounded annoyed.
“…Sorry…it’s just …my tummy is bad…” She fibbed.
She must have been convincing. He shook his head and they headed outside towards their vehicle. She knew he had two other vehicles which were more spacious and comfortable but why he chose to travel with this one she had no clue. It looked a little rundown. It was an old model Wagon R. Nonetheless she sat and stared outside the passenger side window while he reversed and drove outside to join the highway.
“Gautam” he said after a while still looking ahead as he drove.
She was confused. “What?”
“Not Vikram. Call me Gautam… you were asking me back there…”
“Oh… it doesn’t make any difference…”
“…it does…” he cut her abruptly. “…It does to me”
She turned towards him. “Oh really? It didn’t make any difference to you when using it amidst my family… with Rewa didi…”
He was silent eyes on the road.
“By the way… where is Rewa Didi? And don’t tell me you have no idea…. I am sure you do.” Preeti folded her hands as she confronted him.
He didn’t answer again. Preeti waited for a few moments but he didn’t budge from his silent treatment of her.
Finally frustrated she turned away and continued watching the passing scenery.
After what seemed like ages he spoke. “She is fine…and happy.”
Preeti shot him a glance. He looked at her and then back on the road. “Your Rewa didi is absolutely fine and very happy too…”
“…but…where is she?”
“For Rewa home is where her heart lies… she is with Suyash. The girl deserves happiness after what she has gone through…” He sighed
Suddenly she was thrilled. Surprised, but very happy for her sister.
“You knew all this while that….”
“….yes I knew Preeti. In fact I had to orchestrate everything so that she would be with him. They were married by the way and will return to Alwar after few months….”
Oh that was such wonderful news. Her heart swelled…. Should she ask him about her last conversation with Rewa didi? He would shut down again. NO…she had to wait for the right time. She continued…
“… But why Gautam…? What did you want from all this?”
He looked at Preeti for a moment and spoke. “I got what I wanted…”
Preeti’s heart skipped a beat. She was thoroughly confused too. Her head had now started to pound with heat and start of hunger. Not to mention the anxiety after calling Tanveer Raisingh. She took in a deep breath. She felt happy for Rewa didi…
“Gautam…just one question…”
He sighed. “Yea…”
“Did you…did you ever…ever sleep with Rewa didi….I mean….” She looked away.
Gautam pulled over to the side of the highway and stopped the car. He looked at Preeti hurt evident on his face… She looked away blinking back tears.
“Preeti look here please…” She turned toward again, him tears threatening to fall any time. “…I always thought you trusted me. I don’t know why you even thought of something so absurd but NO… I didn’t sleep with Rewa… In fact I have not been or slept with anyone besides you, after I met you in the elevator that rainy morning…” She was crying openly. Was it relief? She didn’t know.
“Preeti…it only been you… always…only you…”
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