Chapter 16 - Conversations by the Sea (Feb 21)
Aditya couldn't help but smile when he saw Zoya on the terrace. She was finally out of the room. This, he knew, was a big step.
"What are you so happy about?" Arjun asked Aditya. The brothers were sitting on the lawn chairs, chatting. Arjun craned his neck to follow Aditya's line of sight. The younger Hooda raised his eyebrow at his elder brother, "What is going on between you guys?" He asked gesturing toward the distant Zoya who was leaning on the wall of the terrace.
Aditya shrugged his shoulder nonchalantly, "Nothing."
He hadn't told anyone the real reason why Zoya was holed up in their guest bedroom. It wasn't his place to tell. And how could he when he himself had hidden Pooja's affair from his own family? So he had lied to them about her not being well. He knew his family especially Arjun didn't believe him. But no one said anything.
"Nothing? Really?" Arjun teased. "So you just met Zoya in Ireland and then accompanied her to Mumbai? Because... nothing is going on between you two?"
Aditya sipped the tea from the cup placed in front of him and shushed his brother, "Can we just sit and enjoy the sunset?"
"Ah! Deflection," Arjun said jovially and then stated directly, "You like her."
Aditya choked on the tea, "What!" he coughed out the word.
Arjun looked pleased, "You could not be more obvious. Everyone notices how you have been taking care of her for the past 3 days, anyone can see how you look at her and how worried you were when she was unwell and now the way you're smiling at her."
Aditya's mouth hung open at his brother's perceptiveness.
Aditya liked Zoya.
He didn't know when exactly his feelings for started evolving. Aditya knew that when she was with Yash, his feelings for her would never be reciprocated. After the truth about Yash had come out, he didn't have any time to think about it. All he wanted was for her to start recovering and now she was. That was all that mattered to him.
"Zoya... is going through something," Aditya confessed, "And I am supporting her just as a friend. She needs a friend right now. Not anything else."
He liked her, he did. He hadn't said it out loud to himself let alone anyone else. Telling her was not an option. Not now, not ever. Her wellbeing was more important to him than his feelings for her. He was not going to be selfish.
"Whatever it is, I am happy that you are smiling again." Arjun remarked.
Sometime later, they headed back to the house for dinner.
"Is your friend not going to join us tonight too?" Harshvardhan asked.
Aditya shook his head without looking at him.
"She has been living in our house for 4 days, holed up in the guest room. I want to know what exactly is happening with her," Harsh demanded, "Are you both in some trouble? Has she eloped with you without telling her family? Are you having an affair?"
"No," Aditya answered back with equal ferocity, "I told you before- she is a friend and she is not well. Can't we spare one room in out massive mansion to help a friend in need?"
"I have no qualms about her staying here, but," Harsh pointed a finger at his elder son, "If there is some serious issue behind all this and the media gets a sniff of any potential scandal-."
Aditya interrupted, "Don't worry, dad. Your reputation won't be harmed." He pushed back his chair and got up from his seat. "I am not hungry. Anymore."
"Adi, please," his mother Anjana pleaded, "You haven't even taken 1 bite. Can you all please stop fighting, at least on the dining table?" She looked from her husband to her elder son.
"Ask your son the truth about the girl first," Harsh replied pointedly to Anjana, "She is not ill. Something else is the matter. If Adi can't be honest-."
"Honest!" Adi interrupted Harsh a second time. "You want to talk about honesty?" He laughed wryly, "Words like truth and honesty doesn't suit you dad."
"Adi!" Harsh bellowed.
"Please," Anjana stood up, trying to pacify both her husband and her son, "Please stop it."
Aditya was about to say something when Arjun, who had been quiet the entire time, held his hand and shook his head. Anything said now will only make the situation spiral out of control. His mother was already on the verge of tears and his father seemed like he would breathe fire any moment now.
Aditya excused himself and retreated to his room. He plopped on the couch and closed his eyes. This is why he avoided coming home. Intentionally or unintentionally he would somehow always end up in an argument with his father. His father would be enraged, his mother would cry and his entire mood would be spoilt. It hadn't been even a week since he came back from Ireland and he was already in a fight with his father.
His anger toward his father was exacerbated because of the fact that his father reminded him of Pooja and her betrayal. Just like his father had betrayed his mother, so had Pooja cheated on him. And a manifestation of that anger would make him last out at Harsh.
He felt bad for his mother, who wanted nothing more than her family to live in peace. But she was still in a dreamland. Fissures in relationships don't heal by pretending that everything is fine. They heal by communication and honesty. Sadly his mother never chose to be expressive. Her escape route was to pretend. And as time passed, he couldn't pretend any more.
Among all this madness, the only sane person was Arjun. Initially Arjun knew nothing about what their father had done. But Aditya knew that Arjun suspected. They had never talked about it openly (a trait which plagued the entire family) but somehow Arjun must have been aware.
There was a knock on the door, which woke him up from his thoughts. He expected that his mother must have come to pacify him. He swiveled his head and was shocked to see Zoya. She had a tray in her hand.
"Zoya," he stood up, "What are you...doing here?"
Zoya placed the tray that was covered with a cloche, on the center-table. "I was bored of eating alone so I thought I would join you and your family for dinner. When I went there, I only found your brother, who was finishing his meal. He said that you hadn't eaten so I thought," she said removing the cloche to reveal two plates with food, "I thought we could eat together."
"You didn't have to."
"Well," she sat on the couch as Aditya took the seat next to her, "After 3 days of you providing room service to me, I figured it was time for some payback."
A smile tugged at Aditya's lips. His mood was uplifted just by her presence. They both sat side by side and ate in silence.
Later that night, Zoya wanted to go outside, for a walk. For more than a week, she had been anxious, for days she had locked herself in a room. Each muscle in her body craved for fresh air. Aditya insisted that he accompany her when she suggested. They drove to Marine Drive and sat on the boulevard, over looking the Arabian Sea. It was close to midnight.
"This is so peaceful," she remarked, inhaling deeply and closing her eyes. There was a mix of chatter and laughter around them of people and the heavy sound of waves crashing on the shore.
Aditya had been sitting quietly next to her, looking distant.
"Are you fine?" she asked him.
The question seemed to have brought him back from his thoughts, "Yeah," he nodded, "Just got into another fight with dad. Like always."
He had told her all about his father's extra-marital affairs, in one drunken night in a small B&B in Ireland countryside. And then he had told her about Pooja- his best friend, his fianc who had done the same what his father did to his mother, what Yash did to her.
He sighed, "It's nothing. He'll forget about it in the morning and so will I."
Zoya turned her face sideways to look at him, "If you feel bad about fighting with him, why do you fight?"
"I don't know," he shrugged his shoulder, "He just brings that out in me."
"Because he reminds you of Pooja?"
Zoya's question caught Aditya off-guard and he turned to face her. She was right. Usually a mention of Pooja would irk him, irritate him but with Zoya, he felt like he could talk about anything. In fact, she was the first person with whom he had shared about his failed relationship.
"Yes." He didn't deny the truth.
She pressed her lips before speaking, "I get it. Now, I do. It's funny how we both are in the same boat. 2 people, randomly meeting in flight, inflicted with the same problem."
She turned to face the sea ahead, but Aditya kept his gaze fixed on her. She exhaled through her mouth, he knew she was going to talk about Yash.
The next moment, she did, "I had so much time to reflect about Yash and my relationship and I still can't understand how I couldn't see it earlier. All those business trips he took, I wonder how many of them were to come here to meet his girlfriend. You know I fought with my father to defend him. I hardly raise my voice at anyone yet when my father objected to Yash, I argued with him. I gave him an ultimatum- either he stop humiliating Yash or I leave the house."
She scoffed, "Can you believe that? I went against my family for that b*stard."
Aditya raised his eyebrow at hearing Zoya use an expletive. She never cussed, no matter how angry she got.
"You know when I confronted Yash that day," she swiveled her body to be face to face with Aditya. He gulped at suddenly being so close to her, then shook off the feeling to focus on her words.
Zoya continued, unaware, "He said it was the first time, like that's supposed to earn him a forgiveness. And more than anything else, he begged me not to tell my Abbu about him. He literally fell on my feet pleading, not for my forgiveness but for my silence."
"Why is keeping your father in the dark so important to him?" he asked.
"Our family... my Abbu has helped Yash with his event management business, financially and also in getting high profile clients," she explained, "Our family is quite well known in Mussoorie and Abbu has all these connections-."
She paused, racking her brain as if she was contemplating something and then scoffed, "Of course!"
"Yash was with me mainly for the finance and the connections!" she spoke to herself but Aditya heard. "How did I not see it before? He was just using me. And if Abbu finds out that he has hurt me, he can single-handedly ruin Yash with like... a flick of his fingers."
"Is that what you want?" he asked her. "Payback?"
"All I want," she said calmly, "is to forget all this and move on. I am not the kind of person who plans revenge. I may sound weak but that's not me. I am fortunate that I got out early and almost unscathed. I am hurt, and I am still reeling and healing but I feel so much better now. I know it'll take time."
Aditya smiled at her maturity. It had taken him months to come to that conclusion, to rise above the hate, the despair. "Your strength amazes me," he confessed.
"I had help," she smiled looking at him. "I couldn't have done it without you, Aditya," there was sincerity in her voice.
"I didn't do anything," he responded.
She put her palm on his hand and gave a light squeeze. The closeness to her, her hand on his, gave him a fluttery feeling in his stomach.
"You have been with me the entire time, supporting me, helping me. I can't even imagine how I would have reacted in Dublin if you were not with me." He was about to cut in when she spoke, "I mean it. Thank you, Aditya, for everything."
He placed his other hand on top of her palm and smiled, not having any words to her gratitude. They sat holding each other's hand, looking at each other for a minute.
Zoya was the first one to pull away, "We should go back. It's getting late."
"Yeah," he stood up and dusted his jeans.
"I am hungry," she commented straightening her shirt.
He led her to his car and unlocked the doors. Once they were seated and had buckled up, he opened the glove compartment and took out a can of chips.
"Here," he handed the small can to her.
She studied the can and then commented, "How do you always have these chips handy? Do you get commission from them or something?"
He let out a laugh and she smiled in return. She peeled open the silver foil of the can as they drove back to his house.
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