A/N- Apologies for the delay. It was due to the holiday/festival season. (Hope everyone had a good time). Posting 2 chapters (19 and 20) to make up for the missed updates.
[I was away for sometime and now have returned to this horrible news wrt the show -_-]
Chapter 19 - Work and Plans (Mar-Apr)
It was somewhere in the 3rd week of March, Zoya and Noor were working late in the hotel office. Since it was past midnight, the girls decided to stay back in their personal suite in the hotel. They had to start working early the next morning and it would save time if they crashed in here.
The personal suite was modeled by Noor to match their house as close as possible. It was a small cottage, among the many others on the property. Yet the interior was much different from the others, which the patrons used. Their cottage was more homely. They had kept spare pairs of nightclothes as well as office formals.
Zoya changed into her night suit and Noor flipped through the room service menu, which in their resort was 24x7.
"What do you want to eat? A pizza?" Noor asked, eyeing the menu.
"Anything." Zoya replied and walked over to the mini-bar to look at the contents. Her sight fell on a small jar of pringles and an involuntary smile tugged at her lips. These chips would always remind her of Aditya. Anytime they were in want of food, he would magically retrieve a jar from somewhere.
"Why are you grinning at a can of chips?" Noor's voice cut through and Zoya jumped.
Noor narrowed her eyes, "You have been smiling at the chips for like a minute. What's the story?"
Zoya felt her face go red, "There is no story." She lied.
At first Zoya had told Noor the same version that is the abridged version, of her and Yash's break-up that she had told her parents. Yet, one night when the sisters were working late, over a cup of hot chocolate, Zoya had spilled the beans. She told Noor about Yash's deceit and Aditya's immense help.
Zoya had refrained from telling Noor about her mixed feelings for Aditya and his equally mixed signals. The feelings were subjective, not facts and Zoya had disclosed only the facts to her sister. But Noor was smart. She had picked up the underlying sentiments, which Zoya had tried to hide.
"This is about Aditya, isn't it?" Noor had a big smile on her face since she assumed she was correct.
"No," Zoya lied again.
"You are a horrible liar, Appi," Noor declared, "What happened between you and Aditya?"
"Nothing," Zoya responded stiffly, to get Noor off her back. It was true, nothing happened between them.
"You like him!" Noor exclaimed, "Look at your face, you are blushing."
"It's getting late," Zoya responded trying to digress, "Order the pizza."
Noor put her fingers on her lips and looked lost in thought. Zoya clicked her thumb and finger to get Noor out of her reverie.
"What are you thinking?" Zoya asked.
There was a mischievous smile on Noor's face. "Nothing."
This time Zoya was aware that Noor was lying. She shook her head thinking if she had made a mistake by confiding in her younger sister. As she got under the quilt, Zoya contemplated that Noor was up to something. She was busy surfing her cellphone.
Zoya ordered the pizza and while she waited for it to arrive, she hoped she had not given her sister any wacky ideas.
On a family meeting, during the first week of April, to discuss upcoming plans, Zoya was bowled over by a big news from Wasim.
Wasim, Noor and Zoya were going over a project- a new hotel that they were planning to open when Wasim stated, "Noor gave me a really good idea last week. For this new project."
Wasim rested back on his chair, "She said it would be good if we got in a partner, someone with a big brand name. It'll help with drawing in new patrons as well as investments."
"That sounds good," Zoya commented. She noticed that Noor was trying to suppress a smile.
"I thought so too. So I got in touch with someone she suggested. I was in talks with them for the past few weeks and 2 days ago, I got an affirmation," Wasim let her know. "Though they didn't need much convincing."
"Our brand is quite reputable in this state," Zoya remarked.
"That and they know us personally too," Wasim stated.
This caught her attention, "Who?"
"The Hoodas," Wasim replied, "Harshvardhan told me that they are looking to invest in North India and with a brand like ours they'll have a good opening. Noor suggested that since we are in the same field and Harsh and I do have a good connection it would be a good venture."
Zoya's mind had completely skipped over the anything her father said after The Hoodas.
"The Hoodas?" she mumbled, "As in Aditya and his father?"
Wasim nodded, "I spoke to both of them and they seemed quite optimistic about the venture."
"But..." Zoya stuttered.
Wasim waved his hand, "We have done due diligence. We'll not be entering in a merger without proper investigation after all. It will be good for both our brands and currently we'll start with only 1 project. Don't worry."
Zoya was least worried about the technicalities of it all. Her mind was somewhere else. "So... will anyone from their company come here?"
Wasim looked from Zoya to Noor and back to Zoya, "Didn't Noor tell you? Aditya is coming with his brother Arjun. Tomorrow."
Tomorrow? Zoya raised her eyebrows and slowly shifted her gaze to her younger sister. Noor had a wide grin on her face.
"Nothing is finalized yet," Wasim interrupted the silence; "He is coming here to gauge if this deal will be beneficial for them. And so will we. I am handing this project to both of you. I hope you can take care."
"Yes, Abbu," Noor replied. "We'll take care of it."
Satisfied, Wasim left the girls. The moment he was out of the door, Zoya exclaimed, "Noor! I am going to kill you!"
Noor laughed in response.
"I... I don't believe you used work as an excuse to get Aditya here!"
"It's not an excuse," Noor responded, "We do need an investor, someone with a good brand name. I talked to Aditya and he thought it was a good idea. They too are looking for a project to invest."
"I... I..." Zoya stammered, "I hope that's the only reason why you chose the Hoodas," she pointed a finger at her younger sister, "Once Aditya is here, you can't engage in any shenanigans."
Noor was at the door when she yelled, "Can't make any promises."
Before Zoya could respond, she had dashed out of the room.
The PA system at the Dehradoon airport announced the arrival of the flight from Mumbai. Zoya and Noor had come to the airport to personally pick up the Hooda brothers, as Wasim had insisted.
Zoya had never been so jittery in a while. She still couldn't believe that she was going to meet Aditya. It had been more than a month since she last saw him. Noor placed her palm on Zoya's hand and she realized she was wringing her hands in anticipation.
"Is it them?" Noor asked looking ahead.
Zoya exhaled and lifted her eyes to where Noor was indicating. Among the herd of people who were exiting the airport with their luggage, she spotted him. Aditya was chatting with his brother, Arjun and it was a moment later that his eyes fell on her. He paused in his tracks for an instant as their eyes met.
Zoya could feel her heart beating loudly against her chest. It was as if the world around them had slowed down and everything in the periphery went blurry. She could hear her breath when she exhaled slowly through her mouth.
Aditya's lips curled into a small smile and Zoya reciprocated. He picked up his pace till he was directly ahead of her.
"Hi," he said, the smile never leaving his face.
"Hi," she breathed the word out, not being able to talk.
They stood still letting the silence grow heavier, their eyes fixed on the other.
A moment later, the clearing of throat from Noor, broke the silence. Zoya let out a nervous chuckle and before the situation between them grew any more awkward, she turned her attention to Arjun and greeted him. She then introduced Noor to Aditya and Arjun.
Noor led them to their car and after the brothers had shoved their bags in the trunk, the hour-long drive to Mussoorie began. Noor was driving and Arjun occupied the front passenger seat. Zoya and Aditya were at the back.
"Why didn't you tell me you were coming? You talked to Noor and Abbu over the phone but you never mentioned anything to me." Zoya asked with a low voice.
Noor had put on the music and had started chatting with Arjun, telling him about her hometown and work and asking him about his.
"I... I wanted to surprise you," Aditya replied sincerely. "I hope it's okay."
"Yeah, it's okay," she replied and he smiled.
It was definitely more than okay.
It had been close to a week since Aditya and Arjun had come to Mussoorie.
When Aditya got a call, sometime back from Wasim and later Noor Siddiqui, the last thing he was expecting was an offer for merger. He didn't even know that his father had become friends with Wasim and was looking into buying in one of their new hotels.
Aditya had calculated the pros and cons of the proposal and the pros outweighed the cons by a big margin. However, as astute as Harshvardhan was, they had decided to do an on-site check to confirm their observations. Which meant Aditya was to go to Mussoorie.
Official work had taken a back seat in his mind as soon as his father suggested the trip. He was going to Mussoorie, to Zoya, to work with her. Meaning he would be in constant contact with her... in person. No awkward texts, no silence heavy phone-calls.
Though this could've been a one-man job, Arjun insisted that he tag along. When Harsh had told Arjun that there wasn't any need for him to travel, he had smirked, "Dad, I wouldn't miss this for anything."
Aditya had glared at him to which his younger brother laughed. This earned them a quizzical look from Harsh who didn't question them since he knew this was something between the brothers.
Noor, her younger sister had called after and requested him not to let Zoya know. She wanted her Appi to be surprised. Aditya racked his brains over the statement- Was Aditya's arrival a source of surprise for Zoya? Was she as eager to see him as he was?
That was a week back. A week- since they had arrived in Mussoorie. Even though work had been a secondary factor for Aditya, it was however taking up all of his time. He had frequent meetings with Wasim, Noor and Zoya, sometimes as a group, sometimes individually. He was pleasantly surprised when he saw Zoya working in her family business and taking lead. The rest of his and Arjun's days were spent in doing on-site verification, discussing with employees and contractors and going over the financials of the company.
Too much work had hardly left him any time to focus on what he had actually come to do here.
When Friday rolled by and brought an end to the 2nd week of April, Aditya finally decided to be more proactive. After wrapping up a meeting, as Noor and Arjun had exited, he stopped Zoya who was about to head out.
"The first week's been quite hectic," Aditya made his opening statement walking towards her till be was at a hand's distance from her.
Zoya nodded, "This is a big merger, for both of us. I am happy the work is progressing at a good pace. I'll have out accountant draw up-."
"Zoya," he interrupted sensing that she would steer this conversation into office-work, "It's the weekend. We can take a break."
She smiled, "Sorry. It's my first big deal and I am kinda... nervous about it. I don't want to screw this up."
"You wont," he replied and she smiled again. A silence set between them
A knock on the glass door cut through the quietness. Noor and Arjun were waiting outside. Aditya gestured at them with his finger for a minute. Both the younger siblings resumed their chatting outside.
"So... I was wondering... if... you know..." he stuttered, "Well... you know..."
She quirked an eyebrow at him.
This was more difficult that he had anticipated, "Well... we," he gestured his hands between them, "We've been working non-stop since a week. I was wondering if we could take a break... like go to a dinner maybe?" He got the question out before he lost his nerve.
"Yeah, that's a good idea," she replied instantly. He was not expecting a quick response. "Should I make reservations?" She asked.
"No, let me," he answered. "Tomorrow at 7? The Parkview restaurant?"
"Sounds good," she responded. "See you tomorrow."
As Zoya headed out, Aditya exhaled in relief. He was dreading asking her out on a date and she had agreed to it in a jiffy. He grinned thinking how he could've been so nervous about this.
The next evening, Zoya was ready before time. She had worn a navy blue dress, which fell to her knees and paired it up with brown boots. She had applied a nude lipstick to keep her make up to a minimal.
Her face was however turning red at the moment. "Noor!" she yelled, "It's 6:30. Why are you not ready yet?"
Noor was still in a night suit, "Appi," she frowned, "We have had such a hectic week. I wanna stay in tonight. Do I have to go?"
"Yes," Zoya answered pointedly, "That's why we are going to the dinner with Aditya and Arjun. To relax, eat, drink and blow off some steam. Aditya has invited us for the dinner. How would it look if I go alone?"
Noor let out a groan but then went to change realizing that she would not win any argument with Zoya.
At 7pm exact, Zoya and Noor were in the Parkview restaurant. The restaurant was on a terrace and had a gorgeous view of the mountains during the day. In the evening, if it were a cold one, small fires would be lit to keep the guests warm. With silverware, luxury tablecloths, napkin rings set amid the golden glow of candles, the Parkview was one of the finest luxury dining places in the city.
The sisters made their way up the winding staircase till they reached the roof-top. On the edge of the terrace, Zoya spotted Aditya. He looked dapper dressed in a layer of white on blue shirt and a pair of dark brown trousers. She waved at him from afar once he looked up.
He had a smile on his face, which started disappearing when he saw them. That was weird, Zoya thought to herself. He looked like he was in a panic.
"Hi," Zoya greeted him when she reached the table.
He had a bouquet of white lilies in his hands, "Ummm..." he set the flowers on the table, "Noor." He addressed the younger Siddiqui, "You are here."
"Yeah?" Noor replied but it sounded like a question.
"Yeah, of course," Aditya cleared his throat, "Umm... these," he lifted the bouquet and held it in front of the girls, "These are for you... both of you"
"Thanks," Zoya took the flowers, "They are lovely."
"You got one bouquet for the two of us?" Noor questioned him but there was an amusement in her voice.
Instead of answering, he gestured to the chairs for them to sit. Zoya smiled at him. She thought he needed some sort of encouragement seeing that he was turning paler by the minute.
"This," Noor stated, before they could sit, "This is a table for two. Two chairs only." She had a grin on her face, "Did you reserve a table for two for our dinner?"
"I..." he looked from Noor to Zoya and then back to Noor, "Our table is getting ready. This is for the meantime."
"I thought you reserved the table yesterday," Noor's grin was getting wider and Aditya gulped.
What was she getting at? Zoya wondered.
Zoya realized Aditya was tongue-tied, "Noor, this is not an interrogation. Stop asking questions."
Noor raised her hands jovially, "Just one," she added, "Appi said Arjun will be here. I don't see him."
Aditya ran his hand through his hair, "He'll be here. He is on his way. Could you," he looked at Zoya, "Just give me a minute. I'll ask the waiter about our table." Without waiting for her answer, he dashed off.
The moment Aditya was out of sight, Noor burst out laughing.
Zoya looked at her sister, puzzled, "What's so funny?"
"Appi!" she exclaimed, like it was supposed to answer everything. "You don't get it?"
"Get what?" Zoya asked, genuinely curious.
"This is a date," Noor replied. "It was supposed to be one."
"What?" Zoya almost screamed. "A date? As in Aditya asked me out on a date?"
Noor nodded, "I can't believe you brought me here.
"That's because this is not a date," Zoya denied her sister's suggestion. "Yesterday, Aditya said very clearly that we have been working hard and we should take a break and we should go to dinner," she emphasized on the 'we.'
"We as in you and him," Noor replied.
Zoya shook her head, "No. I remember clearly. You and Arjun were outside and he gestured to all of us saying that we needed a break."
"Aww... you are so nave," Noor chuckled, "This is a table for two. He had 1 bouquet of flowers, Arjun is nowhere to be seen. It all points to one thing."
Zoya waved her hand at Noor, "You are so off the mark."
"Nope, I am most certainly not," Noor replied coolly.
"How did you mess this up too?" Arjun's voice boomed through the speaker of the cellphone.
"I didn't mess anything up," Aditya replied. He had dashed out of the restaurant and found a secluded spot to call Arjun for help.
"How could Zoya be so off-base that she didn't understand you were asking her, and only, her out?"
"I don't know... Maybe I didn't word my question correctly," Aditya huffed, "That doesn't matter. Just come over quickly!"
"Bhai!" Aditya could sense Arjun's slump. "I just started this football game. I'm in the mid of taking my team-."
"Video game," Aditya cut him in, "That can wait. You need to come here. I went along with her misunderstanding and didn't correct her. She thinks you'll join us. Come on! I'll owe you one."
"You owe me a big one," Arjun smirked.
To an outsider, the 4 people dining on the rooftop restaurant would seem normal. To the 4 people in concern, it was anything but normal.
Arjun had come in 20 minutes later and would not stop grinning at Aditya like they had some inside joke no one else was privy to. He was joined in this charade by Noor who seemed was amused by the turn of events. Aditya was nervous and was fidgeting with the food.
They were all talking about movies and weather and travel on the front but Zoya could sense that there was something bigger bubbling underneath the small talk.
She reflected on what Noor had said. Did Aditya really ask her out- as in a date? That would mean that he had feelings for her... that he liked her... Could it be possible that he reciprocated these new feelings that were budding inside of her?
The rest of the dinner went smoothly just not in the way Aditya had planned. How could he be so off mark? He couldn't even ask her out properly- a 30 year old grown man who couldn't ask a girl out on a date. The only thing more embarrassing than his failure was if Zoya found out.
He had made Arjun swear that he wouldn't tell her. His brother had agreed but would not stop grinning at him. Noor, he assumed, also put two and two together. Given the identical grin that she had on her face, just like his brother, did indicate that.
Zoya seemed to be oblivious at least. She was talking to them as if nothing was amiss. However, given Arjun and Noor's subtle teasing, she too became conscious. Aditya glared at Arjun in mid of the meal when the sisters were not looking at them. Arjun had chuckled and nodded in silent.
The next morning, Arjun hired a rental and went off to Dehradoon to meet some friends. He and Aditya were staying in one of the guest cottages in the Siddiqui's resort. Aditya woke up late, took a long shower and flipped on the tv as he brewed a cup of tea in the kitchenette and watched the Sunday news.
At noon, there was a knock at his door. He opened it to find Zoya, in a yellow suit, smiling brightly.
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