Nandini reached the party looking like a doll in peach, lace evening gown with a row of diamonds and sequins on the neckline and bodice. She wore high heels and pretty diamond danglers to complete the look.
For a minute, it felt as if an angel has landed down from the skies.
All eyes turned to her when she entered the party and greeted the elders. Other families of the neighbourhood, business partners of Murthy’s and Malhotra’s who stayed nearby and friends from the colony met her enthusiastically. She also met Manik’s parents with extra warmth, like she always did. She had always been close to them and even they loved her like their own daughter.
Manik had been scrolling down random messages on his phone, sitting in one corner of the community hall, with a drink in his hand. He was not looking any less, in a three-piece black tuxedo, a day old stubble and hair neatly gelled to be set properly. Girls who knew him or didn’t, all of them couldn’t stop swooning on him. The fact that he was (supposedly ) single right now added to his appeal. But he wasn’t interested in anyone except one.
As if on cue, he raised his eyes and found Nandu standing at the far end of the room and engrossed in talking to people around her. He was mesmerized to see her. She looked so pretty and alluring when she laughed candidly. He stood up and started walking towards her. At the same time, Nandini too looked at him and their eyes were locked for a second. She quickly removed her eyes away, but he couldn’t look away. His eyes were almost stuck to her.
Sahil and his parents were there too. When Nandini’s father introduced them to their friends, Manik was around them.
“We have been planning an alliance between Reddys and Murthys. It would be amazing if Sahil and Nandini like each other and decide to get married.”
Manik heard this little piece of information and his mind stopped working. This was news for him and he had no idea about it. Right now, all he wanted was to get in touch with Nandini and confirm if it was true. She and Sahil? Marriage? Just two days back she was with him in Miami and now he comes to know that talks about her marriage with Sahil were already on cards.
Then what was she doing with him? Passing time? Playing with his feelings? Using him?
It felt so bitter that he couldn’t get his thoughts to be streamlined in a flow. His anger and his disappointment started rising.
He spotted her talking to their friends Mark and Sammy, and immediately he marched towards her. All of them greeted him warmly but as they were all childhood friends, they knew him too well. His facial expressions, his clenched jaw, and angry eyes were not hidden from them. Mark asked him why he looked so irritated.
“Nothing!” He replied when Mark asked what happened to him. Nandini too noticed the troubled look on his face but she didn’t comment anything. She pretended to not notice that he was disturbed. Instead. she smiled as if she was least bothered, irking Manik more. Sammy too commented something about Manik’s upset mood but he too was given a cold shoulder.
Finally, Mark and Sammy left to get a drink for them, leaving Manik and Nandini together. She tried to leave too but he whispered and threatened her, in an angry tone, “Don’t you dare go without talking to me.”
She looked at him with surprise, “You have never talked to me like that, before.”
He smiled sarcastically, “Recently… We have done a lot of things that we never did, before.”
She was irritated at the reference of their relationship, “Stop it.”
“What do you want Manik?”
“I want to talk to you.” He said.
“Why? What do you want to talk about? Didn’t we decide, rather ‘you’ decided that what happened in Miami needed to stay there? Then why are you going back?”
“It is not about Miami,” He spoke, looking around if there were any onlookers or people who eavesdropped at conversations. There was no one interested in them and they were left alone for a while. It was also because they were best friends and were usually seen hanging out together. No one paid extra attention to them.
“What is your scene with Sahil?”
She bitterly replied, “Not any of your business.”
“Are you getting engaged to him? To be married to him?”
“Why do you care?” She shrugged and started walking ahead. Once she turned back and asked, lifting a brow, “Or do you?”
Dumbfounded at this sudden push towards the edge, he stared at her face, her perfectly chiseled features, her deep dark eyes, her shapely nose, her long silky hair for a long moment. Then, he replied, with a careless shrug, and in an equally bitter tone, “Why would I?”
She smiled sweetly. And replied in a nice, pretty voice, “Exactly. That’s what I thought. It’s not like we are in love or something.”
“Of course, we are not!!” He spoke strongly as if refusing to bow down before her but couldn’t stop his heart from beating hard. He was clueless if he wanted to confess his feelings, his obsessions. putting all his self-esteem and image at risk, clueless of what his heart wanted. He also had no idea what she wanted.
He just knew one thing for sure – that he hated the idea of Sahil with Nandini.
Sahil met Nandini when she walked away from Manik and asked her for dance. Nandini accepted his hand with half her heart.
She wished she could fight with Manik for this. For them!
For not liking her as a girl who was craving for his love. For not looking at her as a future life partner. For not making efforts to be with her.
Manik too realized that she had stopped fighting with him, now. Instead, she didn’t share her emotions with him, now. Contrary to previous times.
When they were just friends, she used to fight with him a lot. Over small things. Over notes incompleted. Over not listening to her. For not coming on time when they had to go somewhere together. For not giving her attention when he was around any of his new girls, who hardly stayed for a few days but that was a different story.
Now they had stopped fighting. They had stopped meeting. They had stopped talking.
It was staring at their faces, that they were not friends anymore. In fact, there was no relationship between them right now… except for a few confused thoughts. Manik hated this.
As if under a spell, he walked towards the dance floor and asked Nandini if she would dance with him.
Nandini was confused at this. Sahil had stepped back by now and Nandini was in Manik’s arms now. They moved their steps to the buzzing music which had now slowed to a soft, romantic song by Ben E king : Stand By Me. His moves and the way she was in sync with him reminded them about how perfectly they had gelled when they danced together in Miami. They were perfect dance partners to each other.
“Lovely song.” Manik spoke out of the blue, when Nandini was still looking at him with a puzzled look on her face. Finally she spoke.
“What happened to you?” She asked with a weird look in her eyes.
“I don’t know.” He was still not normal. His eyes were reddened. The look on his face was not how it used to be before they had fought with each other. They affected each other deeply, even when it was just friendship between them. And now, they had stepped far beyond that. To think that they would be able to cut it off without talking about it, was juvenile.
“Manik!” Nandini probed him, “You look so different. And so difficult.”
“So do you! You have been so rude to me.”
She frowned, “I don’t know what’s happening with me. It’s so new. I’m not able to handle it.”
He watched her intently and chewed each word, as he spoke, “I told you… we have been doing a lot of new things, lately. Even I am not able to handle it. Let’s talk…”
Was there anything left to talk? She was reminded of how he had to shrug her away as if nothing had happened between them. She was upset with him. She was angry but still had to dance with a smile on her lips, “I don’t want us to talk. I don’t think we can talk without fighting.”
“I don’t want to see you with Sahil.”
“What? How can you…” She was about to say something when he interrupted her.
In a strong tone, he gritted his teeth, and rested his piercing gaze on her as he whispered, near her face, “Don’t ask me what… Don’t ask me why… I don’t know anything, myself!! I just know one thing -”
Shocked, and speechless, she waited for him to complete what he wanted to say –
“I don’t want to see you with or anywhere near Sahil. That’s it!”