A/N - Hello readers! I hope y'all are spending a nice and relaxed weekend!
In the last chapter you saw how Imlie ended up in Aryan's father's villa, how they cleared the air, and then Imlie left Aryan flustered leaving him money and departing without saying goodbye. This chapter finds them back from Shimla and delves a little bit more into both their past, and what's shaped them as individuals that they currently are.
I hope you enjoy reading and please do leave feedback!
Following a fitful sleep, Aryan tumbled out of bed and walked into the living room, hoping to find Imlie there. He had spent the rest of the night thinking about the turn of events, his thoughts largely occupied by this woman who he had found in her home, the one with the strangest name, the one who was one of the most beautiful women he had laid his eyes on. He was hyper aware of her presence in the house through the night….so reachable, yet a stranger. He wanted to get another glimpse of her before she left, maybe come up with a reason to make her stay a little longer.
Aryan was shaking his head at the absurdity of his thoughts when he spotted some cash sitting on the coffee table over a piece of paper. He stopped in his tracks and picked up the cash, turning the paper to read its contents.
Apologies again for the confusion that led me to your home and thank you for letting me stay the night. Considering that you’re the true owner of this house, it’s only fair that you receive the payment for the duration of my stay here. I have left the house in the condition I found it in before leaving. Good luck with Mr. Mishra.
Aryan scowled, anger slowly bubbling up inside him. What the hell did she think of herself, leaving him money!
Imlie dragged her suitcase through the platform at the Old Delhi Railway Station, exhaustion from the journey made worse by the rude shock that the sweltering heat in Delhi felt like after coming back from the cool valleys of Shimla.
Her trip had been nothing like she had expected or hoped for. She’d ended up in an embarrassing situation with a complete stranger, paid more money than she had accounted for without even getting to stay and enjoy the vacation Rupi Didi has so lovingly planned for her. It was such a complete waste.
Immediately, her thoughts drifted to Aryan Singh Rathore. The mystery, the intimidating persona of the man, the impossible situation they met in, and the brief proximity she’d shared with him, all came rushing back to her.
Why did it not feel like such a waste, after all?
She was about to turn into the flight of stairs to cross through the platforms to the station exit when she walked into a bone crushing hug.
Rupi held her tight and squealed into her ear, making her wince slightly.
“Imlieee!! I am so so so sorry! I don’t believe that reservation turned out to be fake. I almost killed the customer service guy I spoke to. They are going to pay up!!”
Imlie held the suitcase with one hand, and balanced Rupi’s weight on her tiny form with the other.
She calmly stated, “It’s not your fault Rupi Didi. Things happen. I am okay, back in one piece. See!”
She broke from the hug and took a small step back so Rupi could see her. Rupi gave her a regretful smile and took her hand, dragging her out of the station, narrating the whole conversation with the customer service representative she complained to, and how she got them to refund the money to her account since they failed to perform their due diligence on the listed property.
They stepped out of the station into the busy Old Delhi Street and hailed an auto rickshaw to ride back to her apartment. As she settled into the ride, Imlie sighed, feeling relieved that some of the damage had been salvaged with the refund.
As the auto rickshaw drove through the heavy late afternoon traffic, Rupi turned to Imlie.
“You still have to tell me about Aryan Singh Rathore!” she chirped excitedly.
“There’s no more to tell than I already told you on the phone.” Imlie stated, hoping to God that her face or voice did not give anything away. Imlie had only told Rupi enough to explain the situation to her, leaving out details of the more awkward episodes and how the man made her breath hitch.
“Not enough! You didn’t tell me much about the guy at all! Is he single? Tall? Good looking?”
“Rupi Didi!”, Imlie exclaimed, surprised by the line of questioning from her former sister-in-law.
“Oh come on! The whole situation wasn’t your fault, and he knew it. So once the air was cleared, did you get a chance to talk to him? Is he an interesting guy?”
“He sure was interesting…” Imlie muttered to herself, looking at the passing traffic, her face away from Rupi.
“Oooo I heard that! Tell me more!”
“It’s not what you think Rupi Didi. He was…intimidating”
“I don’t know. He screamed authority. His gaze was the kind that pierces through one’s soul. He made me nervous”. And his fragrance made me lose my senses.
Imlie decided to keep that part to herself.
She looked at Rupi, who was grinning ear to ear.
“Oh my God, Rupi Didi, I don’t know what’s going through your mind, but I promise it wasn’t like that!”
“I didn’t say anything!”, Rupi said amusingly, zipping her lips and shrugging her shoulders.
Imlie shook her head and smiled. They rode in silence for a few minutes.
Just as the autorickshaw turned into the building complex where Imlie rented her apartment, Rupi nudged her and said, “By the way, there’s a surprise waiting for you at home.”
Imlie gave her a confused smile. Before Rupi could answer, they came to a stop in front of her apartment building. They lugged her bags up and opened the door to her flat.
Imlie was entering the living room backwards, dragging her suitcase in when she heard the familiar rumble of a man’s voice.
She lurched around, letting go of the suitcase, and saw her father smiling widely at her, his arms held out.
“Dadda!!” she exclaimed, running into his arms, and returning his hug.
“How are you, my child?” he asked lovingly, patting Imlie’s head.
Imlie leaned back and looked at her father.
Satyakam Narayan was her adoptive father, having married her mother, Meethi, when he knew she was pregnant with another man’s child and still loving her unconditionally. He had raised Imlie like his own, fighting everyone who would call her illegitimate, as people often would in their small village, Pagdandiya, where people’s minds were just as small.
“I am well Dadda. Why didn’t you tell me you’ll be visiting this weekend? I would have stayed back and made you your favorite kachori!”, Imlie pouted.
Satyakam smiled at her childlike antics and widened his eyes, dancing his brows in exaggerated excitement.
“Kachori!! Now that’s tempting! My bitiya makes the best kachoris in the whole world! But…it was a last-minute work trip”, he stated the last part in an explanatory tone.
“She’s in Pagdandiya”. He paused, then seeing her questioning look, he added, “She’s well”.
Imlie smiled a relieved smile. Since her divorce with Aditya, Satyakam and Meethi remained very concerned about her, calling her every day to make sure she was doing okay.
She didn’t like them worrying about her. In some ways, she felt guilty for not only putting them through the sorrow of seeing their daughter end her marriage, but also subjecting them to the society’s unkind opinions.
All she wanted now was to make all that sorrow go away and make her parents proud. Make her Dadda proud. He’d always taught her to fight.
“Dadda, make yourself comfortable. I will quickly make some tea for you!”
“Relax Imlie!” Rupi quipped from behind her, rolling her eyes. “You just got back from a long journey yourself. Sit and spend some time with Satyakam Chacha, I will make tea. I already ordered samosas from the shop downstairs. The watchman will be here with them any moment!”
“What would I do without you, Didi”, Imlie beamed at Rupi fondly.
“Now how was this vacation of yours?” Satyakam asked Imlie.
“It was good Dadda, just what I needed!” Imlie lied, giving Rupi a knowing look and leading Satyakam to the other side of the living room.
They perched themselves on the lone sofa in the living room, facing each other. Satyakam took her daughter’s hand in his and scanned her face. How he wished he could ditch the pain behind that smile, but it was there. It tore at his heart.
He had already blamed himself for her forced marriage to Aditya Kumar Tripathi in his absence. Aditya, the new project manager from Delhi was stationed in Pagdandiya while overseeing the construction of the dam on the nearby river at the time. He had visited their home for meals a few times. Satyakam had to leave the village for a few days for a political rally in the surrounding districts. It was a matter of a couple of days. What could go wrong? he’d thought.
What could go wrong.
Those words resounded in his head now. If he had known then that the villagers would force an archaic and senseless village tradition on her daughter and marry her off to a practical stranger just because they took shelter together overnight to avoid a storm, he would never have left them alone. How could he have known though?
His fury had known no end when he’d found out. But what was done was done. Imlie had been shipped off to Delhi with her new, forced husband before he’d got back.
He’d visited her in Delhi immediately, asking her to come back with him, but she’d refused. She believed in the sanctity and institution of marriage. It was him and Meethi who’d set a great example of a marriage for her. Inspired from them, Imlie wanted to give her own marriage a chance regardless of the circumstances that resulted in it.
He was so proud of his little girl and her will to make the best of the cards life dealt her.
But then tragedy struck again when Imlie called them and told them she will be filing for a divorce.
Reason, Aditya’s infidelity.
Satyakam broke down.
He had failed to protect his little girl. He couldn’t forgive himself. It was Meethi who had helped him then, opening his eyes to the fact that there was no time to break down, that their daughter needed them. He’d been trying to support her in every manner he could since, but the one thing he wished for the most was to undo the last year and a half of her life and take the pain in her eyes away.
Here she was sitting in front of him, the pain still there. Still very there.
He squeezed her hand and asked once again, this time more seriously, “How are you, Imaliya?”
Imlie knew she couldn’t lie to her father too long. He had this uncanny ability to read people.
“Getting there Dadda, getting there”, she sighed, and continued immediately, “But I don’t want you to worry about me! Your Imaliya is strong. I am just focusing on my career now. I’ll be okay!”.
Satyakam gave her a proud smile.
“Speaking of, how’s the new job?”
Imlie’s eyes twinkled with excitement. “It’s great Dadda! Bhaskar Times is such a big company. It’s only been one week since I joined, the orientation was great! I am excited to start assisting senior reporters on some stories this week. I hope I make you and Amma proud”, she finished hopefully.
“We already are bitiya, we already are”.
Aryan entered the Rathore Mansion, a lavish bungalow in central Delhi, where the who’s who of the city lived. Tired, he handed his bag and jacket to the waiting staff and headed towards the large spiral staircase that opened to the top floor of the bungalow where Aryan’s room was located. He had flown back to Delhi a couple days later, the matter of his father’s dream project finally sorted.
Just as he reached the foot of the staircase, a calm voice from behind him made him stop in his tracks, “Aryan Beta?”
Aryan turned around and looked at his mother’s smiling face. His mother, Narmada, was a kind, gentle soul. Her smile instantly warmed Aryan’s heart. He took a few steps towards her.
“How was Shimla?”
Aryan frowned. “How did you…?”
“Shilpa. She told me”, Narmada interrupted, anticipating his question already.
Aryan sighed. He had hoped to not mention being in Shimla, lest it should trigger memories of his father for the family. Aryan didn’t like to talk about his father. Talking about it somehow made his father’s absence from his life more palpable.
“Don’t yell at your poor secretary. I was the one who called her. A mother can’t help worrying about her son’s whereabouts. Especially when he disappears for days without telling her anything.” Narmada smiled at Aryan ruefully.
Aryan felt a pang of guilt rush over him. He walked the remaining distance to his mother and hugged her, settling his head on her shoulder. Narmada didn’t miss the deep sigh that escaped her son as he hugged her.
“I’m sorry” he said quietly.
“How bad was it?” she asked him, rubbing his back in gentle circles, trying to soothe the pain his son carried within him.
“Awful”, Aryan spoke in a low voice, his eyes closed.
Narmada continued soothing his back for a few more seconds before he spoke up again, “I miss him, Maa”
Narmada’s eyes dampened.
“Shhh, I know Aru. We all do.”
It had been 5 years since her husband, Uday Singh Rathore had died in a car crash. His loss was devastating for the whole family, but her son Aryan took it the worst. He was the closest to his father, idolized and adored him, and he was easily his father’s favorite child too. They had shared a special bond. Aryan had never recovered from his loss.
Narmada recalled how her mischievous, cheerful Aryan, all of 22 years old at the time, had suddenly turned silent and serious after his father’s demise. While Narmada and her older daughter, Arpita had picked up the pieces of their life and tried to keep moving, Aryan’s life had stilled. He had to grow up in an instant and take over the family businesses. He had plans for himself, everything put on hold or forgotten after the fateful accident.
Arpita was newly married when her father died, having married her childhood love, Arvind Saanghi just 3 months before the mishap. Arvind was like a third child to Narmada and had helped Aryan get through the ropes with the businesses. He was like an older brother to Aryan and had somewhat helped fill the void of a mentor and a friend that his father’s loss had left in his life.
Even so, Aryan missed his father dearly and Narmada felt at a loss not knowing how or when her son would start living his life again.
Aryan wiped a lone tear that fell from his eye before breaking the hug, not wanting her to see him cry. Straightening up, he avoided his mother’s gaze and looked down at the floor, changing the topic.
“How’s your knee pain?”
“Eh, it comes and goes.”
“Shouldn’t you be resting?”
“You’re home. I’ll rest now”
Aryan looked at his mother lovingly, a small smile breaking on his lips.
Narmada cupped his cheek affectionately and asked, “Are you hungry?”
Aryan shook his head, taking her hand in his palm and squeezing it.
“I’m fine Maa. I just need some sleep.”
Narmada nodded, “Go, get some rest. We’ll meet at dinner.”
Letting go of her hand, Aryan climbed up the stairs and made his way to his bedroom. His phone rang just as he closed his bedroom door behind him. He took his phone out of his pocket and saw his assistant’s name flashing on the screen.
“Sir, the final paperwork for the Bhaskar Times acquisition deal is ready.”