A/N - Presenting the first ever chapter of MEaB! I hope ya'll like it!!
Aryan loosened his tie and got into the driver’s seat of his car. It had been a long and mostly unproductive day. This deal was high stakes for him. His company had won the contract to build a chain of long stay vacation rentals in the hill town of Shimla, and just when the work was about to start, the worker’s union declared a strike, influenced by local social workers. He spent the entire day trying to negotiate terms, but the union was adamant that the project was not in favor of the town.
Generally, the CEO of Rathore Group of Industries wouldn’t worry himself with these minor matters and let his staff handle the situation, but this one was personal. Shimla was his father’s favorite vacation destination, and this was his dream project. Aryan had to make it happen, for Paa’s sake.
He ran a frustrated hand over the back of his neck and turned the ignition. Rolling through the winding roads of the hilly town, his thoughts wandered to the summers when he visited Shimla as a kid with Maa, Paa, and Di. They made a point to visit almost every year. Wasn’t that why Paa had decided to build a vacation home here? Off a high cliff in Kufri, 15 km from Shimla, he had a massive but cozy villa built, which served as the perfect summer home for the Rathore family. Back then.
Aryan reminisced the crisp, cold mornings when he would hike the mossy trails of Kufri with Paa, stopping at their usual tea stall for a cup of morning tea. He would buy Aryan his favorite pack of cookies there and they would sit on a bench at their regular lookout point, overlooking the valley.
Aryan would listen intently as Paa educated him about varied topics - history of the city, different types of trees found in the valley, why the endangered species of animals in these hills must be preserved. He listened and absorbed all of it with an air of awe for his father. Those mornings with Paa were some of Aryan’s most treasured times with him. Paa was his best friend.
He brought himself back to the present as he steered the car into an obscure curve that hid the steep downhill lane leading up to the said villa. He hadn’t visited Shimla since Paa died. No one in the family had.
A property manager and a handful of staff has been hired to manage the property. Aryan would have informed them of his arrival, but he never planned on staying at the villa. How could he? The memories were too painful.
It was a last-minute trip, and amid the many arguments he was having with the union leaders all afternoon, he had distractedly typed an email to his secretary, Shilpa, to book him a room at the best available hotel in Shimla. He didn’t realize that the email never left his outbox.
At the end of the meetings, in between quick bites of dinner with his construction manager and lawyers, he called Shilpa to confirm the details of the stay. Sounding confused, she said – “Sir, you are in Shimla?!”
“What the hell do you mean by that question? I asked you to book me a stay, Shilpa! Did you do it?”
“S-sir....I am sorry if I missed a communication, but I didn’t know I had to book you a stay in Shimla!”
Aryan let out an exasperated grunt. I have morons working for me, he thought.
“Shilpa, I am in no mood for this right now. Check your bloody email. I sent you instructions this afternoon.”
Shilpa scrambled to refresh her mailbox, and nervously mumbled into the phone, “I’m s-s-sorry sir, I checked…I don’t have an email about this. I am so sorry if I mistakenly deleted…”
Irritated, Aryan removed the phone from his ear and placed it on the desk. Pushing the call on speaker, he proceeded to his email outbox so he could resend the damned email to his incompetent personal assistant. When he saw the email sitting in his outbox, he muttered a curse and pulled the phone back to his ear.
“Shilpa, my bad. Looks like my email to you wasn’t sent. Can you check for some accommodation here now? Let me know within the next 30 minutes.” With that, he hung up.
That was two hours ago. Shilpa tried to get him a hotel booking, but given the peak tourist season and the last-minute, late-night request, nothing came available…much to Aryan’s annoyance. He was so going to fire Shilpa when he got back. I pay my staff to get shit done. If they can’t, they can go, he decided harshly.
He had considered driving to another town, but it was late, and he had no guarantee that he would find something there. Not to mention the pile of work he needed to take care of considering he hadn’t been able to pay attention to any other business all day. Grudgingly, he had decided to head to Rathore villa to spend the night.
As he braked the car to a slow halt on the gravelly driveway, he clenched his jaw. Maybe he should have driven around and tried his luck in other nearby towns.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Feeling a tense knot in his neck and a slight throb developing in his temple, he stretched his neck to one side, then the other. Taking another deep breath, he opened his eyes and stepped out of the car. Grabbing his jacket, vest, and bag from the back seat of the car, he lifted his arm to check the time. 11 pm. It’s late.
He decided against calling the property manager at this hour. He knew the code to the front door, after all. All those years of memory. How could he forget?
Trying to block the onslaught of memories and emotion flooding his mind, he sucked in the cold night air and walked to the front entrance of the villa. As he reached out to punch the code into the metal keypad under the doorknob, the door shifted slightly. What the hell? Why is this door unlocked?
He pushed the door open gently with his index finger and peered inside. Not seeing anyone, he took a cautious step inside and entered the villa, running his fingers on the wall beside the door looking for the light switch. He turned on the foyer light and closed the door behind him, taking slow, guarded steps into the house.
The living room and the adjoining open kitchen were quiet. He kept his bag on the large kitchen counter and threw his jacket on one of the highchairs as he took in the quiet, but generally stirred up shape of the house. There were dirty dishes in the sink, the coffee table next to the plush couch had a half-consumed glass of water sitting on it, and the glass doors to the patio adjoining the living room that looked out into the valley were cracked open.
Someone is in here. There was no way the property manager would dare to use the space for his personal reasons. Just then, he heard a soft humming sound coming from the master bedroom on the top floor. A woman’s voice. It couldn’t be the cleaning staff at this hour. This could only mean one thing. The house had been broken into.
Aryan was livid. How dare someone break into a Rathore property! And what the hell is the staff doing leaving the villa unattended this way!
He opened the buttons of his dress shirt’s sleeves and rolled them up as he climbed the stairs, trying not to make any noise, lest he should alert the intruder. He made his way up the landing and into the master suite, wondering if he should have grabbed a pan from the kitchen as a makeshift weapon should the need for self-defense present itself.
Entering the large bedroom, he saw a large suitcase spread open on the bed with clothes scattered all over. A suitcase? How long was this crook planning on staying here? Gotten herself a little too comfortable, hasn’t she!
Aryan stepped further into the bedroom and stumbled upon something. Catching himself from falling flat on the ground, he balanced himself in a ninja stance and looked around to see if the almost fall attracted the intruder’s attention. The humming voice was coming from the bathroom. He slowly let out the breath he was holding, relieved to have remained undiscovered so far. He did not want to lose the element of surprise while nabbing this trespasser.
Swearing silently, he looked around to see what he tripped over and saw a pair of women’s shoes uncaringly lying in the middle of the bedroom floor.
Whoever this little shit is, she’s messy as f-ck.