Padma had only heard and been warned about sexual abuse… Was that her fate tonight?
Her heart was now pacing like there was no tomorrow. Fear of the unknown gnawed at her insides.
The giant stranger placed the phone aside and pulled down the sleeves of her dress his nails leaving painful scratches and she knew they would be visible on her pale skin sooner than later. Her her seamless strapless bra was revealed, and he further pulled the dress downward exposing her matching undies.
Humiliation engulfed her as she felt violated already. But she felt powerless to push him away. She realized she couldn’t utter a word, let alone scream and her limbs were still as she trembled in fear and cold.
As he was about to tear off the last scraps of her modesty, the door slammed open, and someone barged in. She didn’t know what had just happened, but the giant was removed from above her body. She heard some grunts and bangs and suddenly she was warm again… her dress was back on her body, and a coat covered her. Her chills reduced instantly.
She felt strong arms lift her as if she weighed nothing. It felt familiar, but she didn’t know what she thought or felt given her haze. Then, finally, she felt him carry her out in the open, and she saw the night sky spread above like a black sheet sprinkled with diamond-like stars. The eveinig breeze provided the balm to soothe her trembling soul.
She felt him open a car door and bend towards the backseat. Right then her sharp nose, despite the ordeal she had been through, caught on a whiff of that scent. The one she had felt back in the groves outside the palace.
Padma tried to look at him as he placed her on the seat… was her mind playing tricks with her? She thought she saw those same black eyes, the endearing eyes from her dreams blurring on and off. How could it be? She was drunk for sure… But she had never consumed alcohol in her life.
She didn’t know what took over; it was probably the adrenaline. She tightened her grip around his neck and pulled him down towards her. He resisted a bit, but she thought he just gave in. He came closer, and she felt his warm breath on her face. His rough stubble touched her as she lifted her chin, brushing his lips with hers.
Her heart raced… she just had her first kiss…
It was merely a peck, but the softness of her lips against his semi-soft ones caused her heart to flutter. This time there was no inner voice that told her to move away. She had never felt alive before this moment though her brain was fogged.
Was he the sliver of sunshine after the dark clouds that had just, however, above her head? She sighed, and her lips parted. She hoped his tongue would take over just as she had read in the romance novels smuggled into the palace. But to her utmost disappointment, the man moved away, his slight tinge of the vanilla a whiff of which she had from close quarters, suddenly disappeared. He didn’t say a word.
He just pulled the seat belt across her, and even though he tried to avoid it, his arm grazed her chest. Her heart paced up again, but it was due to the surge of attraction for this specimen, who was just a blur. She felt him still a bit and stiffen as well. Why was this giving her a sense of déjà vu? Did this happen before as well?
He shut the door and moved to the driver’s seat. Then, starting the car, he drove away from the club. She didn’t know where she was headed, nor did she think of her safety which moments earlier had burdened her thoughts.
The gentle rocking of the car as it cruised along some smooth road coddled her to sleep. She tried to stay awake for the sole reason of knowing this enigma who saved her virtue and probably her life as well. At that moment, she didn’t worry about what lay in store for her back in the palace. However, the more she tried to keep her lids open, to glare at the mop of hair visible above the driver seat…. gosh, the man was tall, her eyelids grew heavier, and soon she slipped into oblivion.
Someone sprinkled water on her face; the cold graze stunning her out of her slumber. But instead of her soft bed, she was on something hard.
“Padma… wake up… quick….” Aarti’s whispers close to her ears irritated her. “… you scared me. Where did you disappear…?”
Wait, what was going on? Padma’s head pounded like crazy. Where was she? Still in the party? No… wait. The chill breeze hit her bare legs, and she sat up immediately, the move sending a jolt of agony racing through her dizzy head.
She held her head to stop everything from spinning. It was then everything came back. The giant man walking towards her, dragging her away, and then the other guy saving her. So how did she land up in the palace?
Strange were the ways of the world. Padma had been found precisely in the exact location, on the same iron bench close to her side of the palace two years ago. At this rate she felt she would go crazy. She had no memory of what transpired two years ago, and last night was a haze. But her gut instinct told her there was something common between the two.
She realized Aarti was talking to her in hushed tones, looking wearily around. Padma followed Aarti’s gaze and realized it was very early in the morning, and usually, no one came to this side of the palace that soon. There was a canopy of branches overhead, which saved them for the moment. She had to get back to her room and out of these clothes before anyone found them.
Aarti helped her as they stumbled their clumsy way into the palace, towards Padma’s quarters.
Later as they freshened up and had the breakfast brought to her room by unsuspecting maids, Padma finally spoke.
“Aarti, what happened last evening..?”
“Padma, I was about to ask you the same. One moment I saw you standing with the fruit punch looking at me dance, and the next moment you were gone. I thought you must have gone to the washroom, but when you didn’t turn up even after 10 minutes, I went looking for you. Imagine my fright when I didn’t see you anywhere…” Aarti held her hands. “… where did you go, and how did you land up here…?”
Padma tried to recall whatever her hazy mind could and gave a gist of everything to Aarti, who looked stunned. But, of course, she omitted details about her savior or that she was fiercely attracted to the guy. Likewise, she didn’t tell Aarti about the similarities between the incidents from last night and two years ago. No use stressing out the poor girl, especially when Padma didn’t remember anything.
“Aarti, I don’t know what went wrong, but I think there was something amiss with my drink.” Padma voiced her doubt.
“But we had the drink together Padma, and I was fine.”
“But how did you come back and find me here?”
“Padma, I rushed back to tell Nanasaheb. I panicked when we couldn’t find you. Fortunately, I found you on that bench. Whoever that man was, we should be thankful; he saved you. Imagine what would happen otherwise…”
Padma nodded, and just then, the attendant arrived, announcing Keshav’s arrival. Padma felt Aarti stiffen and hated her father that moment for creating a wedge between friends.
Keshav strode into her room and halted in his tracks the moment he saw Aarti. Aarti inturn excused herself and walked out of the room.
Padma smiled at Keshav, trying to ease the tension and invited him over to the couch. Then, she belled for tea to be brought.
“Keshav, I um….” She didn’t know how to begin the conversation. Especially when Keshav intently stared at her.
She realized Keshav had grown into a handsome young man, and considering his lean muscled physique; she was sure he worked out. His fancy rimmed glasses perched on his straight nose gave his boyish face a charm of its own. He wasn’t clean-shaven, and his day-old stubble was something she should have found attractive. However, it didn’t induce the same feeling she had felt last night with that stranger. On the contrary, it further strengthened her resolve that she and Keshav weren’t meant to be together.
They both spoke together. Padma gestured to him to continue as she was yet to frame her words.
Keshav, however, didn’t smile his facial expressions like a chiseled stone.
“Padma, where did you go last night?”