Ria was jolted awake with a jerk and realized the car had stopped. She was a little disoriented, confused about where she was. She had barely slept and with great difficulty she opened her heavy eyelids. She was so comfortable, she didn’t want to move… just snuggle back into wherever she was, and then with a sudden awareness surging through her, she realized, her head was on Gaurav’s shoulder and he held her close to him. She tried to move away but winced in pain. Her leg was on fire and holding her right leg at the knee as she grimaced in agony. There was a hand pressing on her shoulder. “Ria, hey look here. We are at the hospital now. Don’t worry. You will be fine. We will admit you right away… We will run the vitals….”
She was now wide awake and the reality of her situation sank in. They were at the back entrance of their hospital… close to his parking spot. Thank God… She panicked and stuttered… “NO… please… NO… no hospital. Ev…everyone will know about…. Nnnn…No hospital sir…” She interrupted him. Her heart was galloping in her chest threatening to rush out… as different scenarios ran through her mind.
Gaurav looked confused probably unable to understand the reason for her sudden outburst. “What is it Ria? Why…why don’t you want to get in to the hospital? Or is it this particular hospital…? Ria listen… at this time its difficult to get you in some other place… besides this is home isn’t it? I promise you everything will be taken care of… ok? ” He just didn’t get it, did he?.
She started to cry unable to convey her problem to him at the same time feeling guilty about hurting his feelings. But this was a chance she couldn’t take. Right then Sudhir and his colleague’s snider remarks played in her mind, blocking all scope of reasoning. She couldn’t even imagine the trajectory of the gossips spread on her account. And if appa got to know…heavens forbid… NO. She grasped at his hands. “No sir…. p… please. Everyone will know. I can’t afford that… no hospital…”
“What will everyone know Ria?” Gaurav asked in an irritable voice… frowning, confusion written all over his handsome face.
“…That we ….” she waved her hands between them, “…no no sir…please no hospital.” Ria kept persevering openly crying now. She was probably freaking him out and just prayed he didn’t regret saving her.
Gaurav gave her a painful look as if he didn’t know what he was supposed to do as an amused Keith looked on. He glared at her with the look he gave her in the hospital over her reports. He turned to Keith,” Keith, take us to Ms. Narsimhan’s residence.” He then looked at her, “I hope that’s ok with you?”
“Just leave me at the entrance of my lane. Sector 8 Rigved nagar. I will walk from there.” she said.
Gaurav drew his hand through his hair. “Ria, are you out of your mind? You can’t even take a few steps without support. There may be water logging in your area even now…we don’t know for sure. Besides, the power hasn’t been restored in those parts. How will you contact anyone in any emergency? And most important….” he held his hand up as Ria started to interrupt him again.”…It’s very important for me to check that wound. I will have to redo the dressing with real stuff this time and get you the better medication for this. Do you understand? “
“Sir….” she said in a trembling voice. “…. You don’t understand. I can’t be seen with you in my colony as well…. everyone will know…”
“FOR FUCKS SAKE WILL YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHAT WILL EVERYONE KNOW?” He said loudly. Ria was startled. She had never seen him like that before… even last week when he had yelled at her. She just stared at him. He looked angry but a lot more fatigued and worn out. Oh God what was she doing… how could she explain things to him… he wouldn’t understand her predicament.
“I asked you a question Ria,” He said with a milder tone this time. “What-will-everyone-know?”
“Everyone will know that I… I was…. with…. you all alone last night.” She whispered looking down at her clasped hands, desperation evident in her voice.
She felt him flinch and suck in a quick breath… oh no was he angry now? She didn’t blame him though… he must be dead tired too and she was acting like a tantrum throwing kid… but from her point of view she was right…
“What the fuck…” He roared. “…How juvenile can you get Ria? It’s not like we were on a date or something. It was…. it was a meeting by chance. We were STUCK for God’s sake.”
Ria looked outside the window as the silent tears flew down her cheeks draining away all the energy left in her body but her heart getting heavier by the minute. The fact that she was embarrassed to have this conversation before Keith added to her woes and her crying only increased…She covered her face with her palms and sobbed into them.
After a few seconds she felt his hand on her shoulder again. “…I…I am sorry… Ok Fine. Where can I take you then…?”
“I suggest… I mean…. If you can arrange for a taxi…. I will go home.” She replied softly.
“… Ria… are you sure you aren’t deranged with that hit on the forehead…? I may have to run some scans to be sure…” He rubbed his hand down his face. “…first of all you won’t get any cab at this time… and even more important… I will not allow you to go home alone. Not in this condition…”
“…But… but sir…”
He held up his hand silencing her. “…. Let’s go to this place, I know of. No one knows you there. No questions will be asked and I can monitor your health as well…”
Was he… taking her to his house? Oh no that would be worst…what about his folks? A lot of questions nestled in her functioning brain at that moment.
“Wh… which place, sir?”
Gaurav didn’t bother to answer her. Instead he turned to Keith again who she saw was amused still at the banter. She liked the guy and wondered what he may be thinking about her. “Keith, take us to Parijaath. Call ahead and tell them to prepare 2 guest rooms, and fresh lunch for us.”
Keith looked behind, glanced at Ria and then gave Gaurav a look that Ria couldn’t understand. “Ok sir.”
What was this place? Definitely not his house… thank God. But where was she going with this mystery man…? He seemed to be the spider artistically weaving his web and she was getting tangled in it… really? She mentally berated herself… The man had saved her life and been a thorough concerned gentleman throughout… That was a lot more than what anyone else in her life had done for her so far. And she was an idiot… her fear on creating a scandal of epic proportions which would question her morality was getting in the way of her rational thought. She was guilty of being attracted towards him more than ever before and also upsetting him. Now he was going out of his way for her benefit and all she thought was about his vested interests. No… she would trust him on this. Ria didn’t ask him any further questions. Not only she knew he wouldn’t answer but he was right about her condition. She was definitely not in a position to go home alone.
As the car passed the once busy streets, she saw the havoc caused by the floods last night. She saw garbage strewn on the roads, cars toppled, bikes lying around, trees uprooted… She hoped her friends all made it safely home… irrespective of what had transpired between them, she wished them well. She shuddered to think what would have happened to her if Gaurav hadn’t been there yesterday. She thanked her stars for her good fortune and she had seen a different side of his personality. Even in her fogged mind she had memories of him working on her injury in pitch darkness… There was a lot more here which she wasn’t aware of and longed to know. She wanted to understand the difficult character sitting beside her a complex cluster of personalities embedded under many layers. He was the onion she wished to peel layer by layer to know what was deep down in the core. But she was sure about one fact though, whoever he really was he definitely was not the monster projected himself to be in the hospital. She rested her head on the seat as a strange sense of calm descended upon her. Within minutes she was fast asleep…
Ria stirred up awake again to find herself covered by a shawl. The temperature inside the vehicle had come down drastically and she was feeling the chill. She had slept for quite a while it looked like and the car was speeding on some highway from the looks of the passing blur scenery, a soft instrumental music played on the car stereo… she squinted to see Keith driving and nodding to music and she lay… on his chest yet again. He had held her so that was why she hadn’t fallen down… she could get used to it. She moved to sit up straight even as her leg throbbed. His hand fell and she heard light snores. She looked up and saw him asleep on the head rest. She couldn’t take her eyes away from the peaceful face, with just a couple of days’ worth stubble, no frown marring his handsome features, beautiful eyelashes against his skin and his scar was almost invisible. From the V of his shirt which had slightly opened at the top she saw a bit of black curls… his chest hair. Her eyes moved down to his torso which like his back was well endowed as seen from the shape the cloth had taken… what would it feel to run her hands over his body…? She turned red and right at that moment looked up to see him awake and staring at her…his face devoid of expressions. She gasped and moved away immediately wincing at the pain that shot through her leg. He gave her a bottle of water which she was grateful for. She saw the time on the dashboard… it was approaching 12.30PM. They had been on the road for over two hours. Where were they headed? She hadn’t called her parents or Vikram… would any of them be worried considering the bad downpour last night?
The car slowed down as she saw the change in the scenery…it was more like a rural area with mud houses and thatched roofs, independent row houses in some places and most importantly lots of greenery. There were many farms and she could see farm animals and farm hands busy at work…there were little children playing in the mud or water poodles without a care in the world and that got a smile on her face. Her eyes fell on a huge board at the side of the road it read “welcome to Sitapur” in Marathi, English, and Hindi languages. She had never heard of this place and wondered why Gaurav had come here… nonetheless she was grateful. She wanted a phone desperately …preferably her own, else her father would have queries lined up.
“…Um..Sir… can I borrow your phone… I have to call my parents…” she asked him hesitantly. Gaurav didn’t say a word and just handed his phone to her… She dialled her father’s number but the call failed to connect. She tried her mother and Pooja too but with the same results. In a way she was glad. Should she call Vikram? She actually didn’t feel like it and handed the phone back to him.
“…what is it… couldn’t reach them…?”
“…No… actually they are in a remote village near Telangana, which has very poor network coverage… so…”
He just nodded and looked away while she still tried to figure out why she didn’t bother to call Vikram… she even wondered what if she broke up with him… How would Appa react? A shudder passed through her body as the vehicle turned along a gravel path and reached a large gate. She peeped from the side and saw the plaque outside which read:
Blooming your lives
There was this beautiful picture of the flower itself with two icons one a mother and child and the other consisting of a woman with a horse. She looked back at Gaurav who was staring intently at her… his eyes filled with an emotion she couldn’t guess. She turned back at the board as Keith honked and the huge gates opened. She didn’t know what held in store for her as the car entered the gates and the security guards stood up to salute the charismatic man sitting next to her. What on earth was happening? where was she?
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