Manik and Nandini looked at each other at the allegations put by her parents, thanks to Sahil. Before this, they had literally remained together for the most part of their days, almost like shadows to each other and no one ever raised a finger at them. It was an irony that her parents had asked this question after an ‘outsider’ blamed her conduct in a forced relationship. Manik gulped his saliva visibly and turned to Nandini, to get a cue if he should say something.
Nandini nodded. She wanted to be the one to speak, “Appa, you believed Sahil? I didn’t expect this from you. You are trusting the words of a person we don’t even know properly. How can you believe him over your own daughter?”
Ram Murthy rolled his eyes. He knew Nandini too well. He shrugged, “If I had believed him blindly then I wouldn’t have called both of you together to talk. I just want to know…”
“Wait, appa…” Nandini raised her hand in the air to stop her appa from asking questions. If he clearly aksed if Manik and she had an affair, she knew that none of them would be able to lie to him. She decided that he didn’t need to know about her relationship with Manik. Not now.
Instead, she wanted to tell him what he ‘should know’… Sahil’s truth.
She said, “We will tell you everything about us. But shouldn’t you know something about Sahil first? The new guy who suddenly became your favourite, more than both of us
Ram huffed, “One, he is not my favourite. Not over both of you. Two, will you please say what you are about to tell me?”
“Did he tell you that he abused me last night, hit me, and was trying to get force himself on me in a secluded area?” Nandini spoke sharply. Manik sat looking at her. Awestruck. Speechless, all over again. Since childhood, this girl had amazed him no end.
‘What a firecracker of a personality, she was!’ He thought.
Ram Murthy, immediately sat straight when Nandini said that, and asked, “What are you saying?! How dare he?”
Her mother, Naina Murthy was worried, “Did he hit you?”
“Ask Manik. He would have got away with what he wanted to do, if Manik had not come and saved me. Look at my arm.”
Her parents observed her bruised arm and scratches. They knew that she had left the party early and was asleep when they had returned at night. It was an unusual behaviour.
Manik spoke, “That’s true. He behaved like an animal last night and hurt Nandu physically. When we faced him and made him leave, he went to you to complain about us.”
“Oh God! I’ll talk to him and his father, today. He will have to apologize for this behavior. We are done with such sick friends.” Her father grumbled angrily.
“Exactly. We are sorry, Manik. We know you since childhood and yet we were carried away by this new guy, like Nandu said, by someone who is a stranger.” Her mom added, “Thank you for being there for Nandini, yesterday.”
“No worries, if I am around. Fortunately, I was there at that time, aunty.”
“I’m so sorry. We should have checked with you first, instead of raising questions at you.”
“Please aunty. Don’t embarrass me. And regarding us, I would just say that there is nothing going on between us,” Manik spoke, but before he could speak more, Nandini hit his leg below the table, interrupting him. He stopped speaking and turned to her with a big frown on his face.
“Leave it. Both of you have breakfast. I’m going to the kitchen. I’ll send coffee for both of you.” Naina stood up to leave the dining table. Ram stood up too and excused himself to go to the office, telling them that he will have a talk with Sahil’s family.
Nandini tapped her fingers on the table angrily. Manik couldn’t stop smiling at that. Whenever she was angry, she became a tantrum-queen, almost like a baby. Manik smiled more. Nandini felt more irritated. With her eyes rolling, she murmured, “Idiot.”
“What happened? What did I do?”
“Why did you say that there was nothing, between us?” She asked in a sweet, acidic voice, in a sarcastic tone.
He grinned mischievously and leaned sideways towards her, as she was sitting next to him. Just near her neck, he replied in a husky voice, “What was I supposed to say then? Uncle, we need to confess something about us? About our trip to…” before he could speak more, she placed her hand on his lips, “Stop it.”
His heart took a leap when she did this. It was beating hard now. His eyes were fixed to hers. He was lost in her but she was too worried to notice that.
“No, silly. You were not supposed to say anything.”
“Then?” He removed her hand from his lips and asked.
“Then, nothing. Say nothing when someone asks. No need to give explanations.”
He asked in a husky voice, tongue-in-cheek, “Say nothing at all?”
She nodded. And blinked like a doll. moving her neck sideways. “Mmm-hmm.”
“To whom?” His eyes scanned her pretty face.
“To everyone.” She confirmed.
“Are you sure you have nothing to say to them?” He probed.
“Absolutely sure.” She confirmed again, with a broad naughty smile and another confident nod of her neck.
“To me?” He whispered.
She stopped smiling and pressed her lips for a second, before she gave him a questining glance and cleared her throat, “What do you mean?”
“Do you have anything that you want to tell me? Anything you want to ask me? Do you want to say something? Anything??”
He already knew the answer and also knew that it was a task, too tough to hear it from her mouth. But he had decided. He was adamant and he was going to get her to say that.
She shrugged, “No. There is nothing to say.”
“Sure?” He made a desperate puppy face and asked again.
She nodded and spoke lovingly this time, “Sure.”
He stood up slowly, “Okay. I’m leaving.”
She didn’t want him to go but felt awkward to ask him to stay back. What was she going to say, she wondered. It felt easier to let the feelings pass. He didn’t want to go too. So, he was slow in his actions, hoping for her to stop him. He could only stay back in her house if she stopped him. He didn’t want to make it awkward. They were much better when they were just friends. They used to talk and behave as if they belonged to each other, with an authority, with a right, and with a chill attitude. But love was complicated. It took away the ease and replaced it with awkwardness and overthinking.
“Okay…. then?” He raised his brows.
“Hmm.” She nodded.
He started to walk away. She stood up too and as an afterthought, she stopped him, “Manik.”
He turned hopefully, “Yeah…Nandu.”
“About last night… thank you so much.” She genuinely smiled with that.
He slowly bent his neck sideways and nodded to acknowledge it and smiled as if he was defeated at a game of chess. He had been hoping to hear something else. Hoping for her to stop him. But she had become so formal. That too, suddenly.
‘Thank you and all…’
He knew that she had fallen in love with him. Maybe she was always in love with him, like he was, without realizing it…
He tried his luck again, “Alright… Anything else?”
She knew there was so much she wanted to tell him, ask him, confess to him… She wanted to tell him about the dream that she had seen last night that he left for New York and how scared she was after that. He was the only one with whom she had shared the maximum part of her life, including her secrets, dreams, and desires…
He had done the same. She was a silent witness and confident secret-keeper to all his mischiefs and ambitions…
They had been wonderful friends, all their lives. They had been amazingly candid in bed. But then, suddenly something unusual happened. Love stepped in from no-where and complicated things.
Today when she was living the most beautiful feeling of her life – Love – she couldn’t share it with him. Moreover, she was almost sure that he loved her too. She had seen it in his eyes, last night. Even now, she could see that he was tongue-tied. Someone had to take a step.
But who would say it first?