Since the day they had confessed their love for each other, Manik and Nandini remained deeply immersed in a paradise of their own.

Every day, they met in the college – for classes, in the canteen, studying together in the library, and were spotted together after college too. Evenings, again, were spent together, either biking to go to far off places, walking for hours along the sea, visiting pubs and clubs with their friends and sneaking out early, away from everyone to talk about anything and everything under the sun.

They were officially a couple now and everybody in their friends’ circle knew about them.

Except for their families…

……………

“Nandini…” He lay on the cool sand at the beach, watching the stars studded like embellishments on the blue-black sky.

“Hmm?” She lay beside him, his hand safely enclosed in hers.

“No ‘hmm’ business with me… say my name.” He complained and demanded.

She chuckled and turned her face to plant a soft peck on his cheek, “Yes, Manik?”

“That was so much better.” He chuckled with glee.

“Tell me.”

“I was thinking… maybe, should we tell our parents about us? I mean, someday we have to. Isn’t it?”

She nodded with a wide smile dancing on her lips leaving a crimson blush on her cute cheeks. He always felt like pulling those adorable cheeks but resisted the impulse. She was impossible when he talked about lovey-dovey things with her. She was impossible, otherwise too.

“What? Say something?” He teased her, rolling his eyes.

She shrugged, “I don’t mind. I mean, my parents love you and your parents adore me. I am not nervous or worried about telling them.”

“Me neither.” He took a deep breath of relief, “So? Coming Sunday?”

“Yeah.” Her blush kept increasing when she imagined them telling their parents about their relationship. She was sure that they would love the news broken to them. Their parents had been friends since the day they had shifted to Pembroke Pines, even before their kids were born. The tradition was continued by their children who were friends since childhood.

He felt a ripple of excitement too, “I think we should tell them together. Maybe, we can arrange a little tea party at my house and you can come down with your parents and then we can just drop them hints about us.”

“That will be so cool.” She said, “I guess they will be very happy about us.”

“Yeah. I think so too.” He spoke dreamily.

“Since the day Navya has come home, it has been a bit gloomy at our side. My parents try to cheer her up, make her happy but something is just not fitting in place.”

“I know!” He spoke, understanding the situation at her home. He didn’t know much about Navya and all his knowledge about her came from Nandini, but he felt bad for her. No girl deserved that pain and torture. He interlocked their fingers with their hands clutched to lie above his heart, as they lay side by side.

“Thanks. But you know, it’s a bit more complicated than what it looks like.”

“How?” He turned his attention from some distant, faraway stars to his own star lying by his side.

“Papa is quite depressed. He had chosen Harshad for Navya and promised my bade papa, his older brother, that Navya will remain his responsibility. Now, he feels very dejected. As if he has failed in his duty as a chacha. He chose Sahil for me. And then we told him about Sahil’s intentions and what he did with me. Papa is beginning to think that he is a poor judge of people. That’s depressing to watch him fighting with himself.”

He listened to all that she had to say and remained quiet when she spoke. He didn’t disturb her. Once she was done with relieving the load off her chest, he replied in a very mature tone, “Give him some time, Nandu. Uncle Ram is a strong man. He will get through it, all.”

She smiled with a relaxed look on her face. “Hmm!”

“Again…hmm?” He frowned.

She giggled and said, “Sorry! Okay… Yes, Manik, you are right.”

“God! I’m getting addicted to hearing you speak my name. It’s like a drug to me.”

She snuggled close to him, with a whisper, “YOU are like a drug to me… YOU!!”

He twitched his lips in a tease and scolded her, “Don’t you have any new words, ideas or things in your kitty or what? That was my word – drug!”

She giggled again, at that, “Manik Malhotra, you are perfect when it comes to speaking. You always know what to say and how. You also know what I am going to speak… or I should speak. So just take the cue.”

“And you? You just know how to copy Manik!” He said it with such sincerity that she couldn’t stop laughing after that.

“Alright, Manik. From today, I’m giving you full copyright over my life’s script. Write it, edit it, rewrite it, add dialogues and special effects… just as you like. I’ll keep copying that.”

He laughed too, “That is a BIG promise, you know?! And a BIG commitment.”

“I don’t go back on my words. Commitment means ‘Commitment’…”

“Promise? For the entire life?” he raised his brows, in ecstasy.

“I promise!” She placed their hands on her heart and then took them in her hold covered by her other hand and said, “Manik and Nandini will always stay together. Manik will write dialogues for Nandini and Nandini will write the script for Manik – that means even you will have to do what I say.”

He grinned, “I promise!”

“So, MaNan is forever?”

“Forever!!”

………………..

It had been nearly fifteen days since Manik and Nandini had made the best possible use of the quiet house they had all to themselves, had confessed of their love in every way they could – in spoken form, as well as unspoken gestures showering their undying love on each other.

The memory of the moment made Nandini blush.

It was Saturday night. They were about to tell their parents about themselves the next morning, ie Sunday morning.

Nandini was in her living room, half-heartedly a part of some vague discussion going on between her mom Naina Murthy and Navya. Her father Ram Murthy was reading evening news on his phone and they were just chilling out with family.

Nandini’s attention was focused on the silver bracelet, Manik had given her two days back, at their small meet at the cafeteria in the campus, after classes.  It was a simple, delicate piece of jewellery studded with fine stars along the length and had ‘M-N’ inscribed on a little oval band in the middle. It was cute. Her eyes twinkled whenever she saw it.

She was missing Manik. He had to go to Florida for some business-related documents for his father which needed signatures from some partners on an urgent basis. Nandini became sad for a moment but Manik had kissed her, given this bracelet, and asked her to miss him for the next two days. Now she realized the bitter-sweet pain of missing the one you love.

She stared at the bracelet and rotated it between fingers of her other hand, softly touching it at the fingertips.

Thankfully, no one paid attention to it as Nandu was fond of junk jewellery and owned loads of them. So it wasn’t new if she wore a different piece, every now and then. Navya, however, guessed the reason behind her bliss and when she raised her brows mysteriously, a visibly thrilled Nandu showed the ‘M-N’ to her.

When Naina picked up a fashion journal to select a few new designs, Navya turned to Nandu.

“Manik?” Navya whispered. Nandini didn’t reply in words but simply nodded cheerily.

“You guys confessed?” Navya asked, almost as thrilled as Nandu.

Nandini leaned over and whispered, “And committed too… forever!”

Navya was happy for her. She said, “Nandu, aren’t you guys too young for a commitment of a lifetime? Barely, out of school?”

Nandini pressed her lips and shrugged, “It didn’t even strike us that we are too young… I mean…”

Navya asked, “Have you…both…” She let the last words trail, in a suggestive way.

“Hmm!” Nandini nodded to agree. She was as clear and transparent as water before everyone she knew. She didn’t hide anything, ever. And she loved Navya too much. She trusted her. It didn’t feel awkward to tell her that they had done it.

“Really?” Navya didn’t know what to say.

Nandini tried to justify, “I don’t know what to say… we are so completely into each other.”

Navya lovingly placed her hand on Nandini’s shoulder, assuring her, “Hope all turns out the best for both of you. My wishes and support is with you.”

………….

Manik’s mother, Neeta Malhotra walked in. Neeta Malhotra was a vibrant lady with a flair for fashion, styling, and gossip. She loved Nandini like her daughter. Even Nandu was really fond of her. She hugged her when Neeta entered.

“I’ve come to take the recipe for Mysore Dosa from Naina. Chalo Naina, as you instructed, I’ve ground the soaked rice and dal and now, I need you to come and monitor the recipe. I want to blow away Mr. Shekhar Malhotra today. He thinks I can’t cook South Indian recipes.”

“Aww. Don’t bother. You cook amazing Punjabi dishes… the chole and all!” Naina complimented her.

Neeta was pleased but she still wanted to make the dosa for Shekhar and Manik. “Thank you. But I want to show them that I can make dosa like you.”

“What is it in your hand?” Ram Murthy asked her when he saw the envelope in her hand.

Neeta huffed in frustration and said, “Don’t ask about this. My son is another headache. He is surely going to give me a heart-attack someday.”

“Why? What happened?” Naina asked.

This time, Nandini too had her attention completely towards her as something related to Manik was coming up.

Neeta replied, “I can’t explain in words about what happened. Since he was ten years old, he had been dreaming about this course in New York, followed by the internship with the same global giants in the hotel industry. For long, it seemed that this was all he wanted to do. And now, when he is accepted in the University, which is, by the way, a very prestigious thing and he has scored over hundreds of applicants and competitors to secure this position, he is refusing to go.”

“What? Why?” Ram Murthy stepped ahead and took the envelope from Neeta’s hand, which was supposedly his acceptance letter. He started reading it, “Amazing! This is so good. I’m so proud of him. This is one of the best in America.”

“That’s what. I have no idea what happened, suddenly.” Neeta grimaced.

Nandini stiffened at the entire conversation. She asked. “Aunty, is Manik back from Florida?”

“Yeah, beta… he just came back, a while ago. And went straight to his room. Next, I hear is that he is not going to New York.”

“But what happened?” Naina asked.

“I don’t know. He doesn’t tell anything. He is becoming so impulsive these days. He was much sorted till the last year.”

“But did he say why he didn’t want to go?” Naina asked.

“No. He is not specific but he gave some vague reason, that he wanted to stay back in Pembroke Pines and be with us. He doesn’t want to leave his friends too. You tell me, how childish is that! What future do you see in Pembroke Pines? It’s a small county. New York is BIG! He has a bright future there. It’s such a large canvas…”

“Hmm… I think we should talk to him,” Ram said.

Neeta spoke in dejection, “No point. We tried doing that. You know what – I think he is seeing a girl and doesn’t want to leave her.” Then she turned to Nandini and asked, “Nandu, you are with him almost all of the day, na! Do you have any idea about a new friend or a girlfriend in his life?”

Scared to death, pale as if her entire blood had drained from her face, Nandini felt as if her throat had constricted, and her heart would leap out of her mouth. She couldn’t manage even a whisper. She just nodded.

“Why don’t you ask him? He’ll tell you.” Suddenly a light bulb idea hit Neeta.

“But… how can you be so sure that there is a girl?” Naina asked her.

Neeta shrugged, “Well. It’s just a motherly instinct. You don’t let go of your dreams for anything! It has to be something or someone, very important!”

Naina and Ram nodded at that, to agree. Navya exchanged glances with Nandini who was recovering from the lightning shock that had hit her, just a moment ago.

……..

Naina and Neeta became busy in the kitchen with Mysore dosa and Ram came to their home to give company to Shekhar Malhotra. The two friends often sat in the evenings and discussed life over a drink or two.

Nandini stood apprehensive, wondering what should be her next step. The Sunday morning,  breakfast meeting had just preponed itself for a Saturday night dinner.

“Nandu, what are you doing here? Manik is in his room upstairs. Will you go and talk to him? Please?” Neeta requested.

Their parents were so used to seeing them together, all the time, since childhood, that not even once, any of them had even a distant thought that the reason behind his refusal could be Nandini. And that they were in love.

Nandini went upstairs to his room. The door of his room was ajar and she was never used to knocking before entering his room. She just barged in.

Manik had been kneeling on the floor, looking totally delectable in a black vest and grey track pants. His muscular shoulders and biceps were barely contained in the black vest. His soft, ruffled hair fell over his forehead. He sat behind his bicycle, cleaning it and greasing its parts.

He wiped his hands with a duster when he saw her at the door. And grinned to greet her. She quietly entered the room.

“What happened? Seems like you missed me a tad bit too much!” He smirked.

“Yes, I did!!” She smiled too, coming closer to him and knelt down on the floor facing him, on the waste rug.

“I was about to call you…” He wanted to speak more but couldn’t do that because her lips were on his mouth, surprising him. It was so impulsive and unannounced from her that it left him stunned. With her right hand on his cheek, steadying his face, she leaned towards him for a small peck.

“Whoa!! Oh-kaaayyyy!!!…That was a surprise!” He spoke over her lips, when she retracted, “You really missed me!!”

“We need to talk, Manik.” She sighed.

“About what?”

She raised her left hand holding an white envelope in it. He recognized the envelope and shrugged, “What about this?”

“Your dream?!”

He grinned and lowered his forehead to touch her forehead, and spoke in a husky soft baritone, “My dream is sitting right before me!”

…………..

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