A/N- We've finally come to the end of the fic. This (Chapter 24.1) and the following next post (Chapter 24.2) are the concluding parts.
I cannot reiterate enough on how grateful I am for the support and love. It was wonderful to read all your views/feedbacks. Leap Year is one of my fav rom-coms and Adiya, one of my fav onscreen couples. To picture/write it in AdiYa style was something I thought could be exciting. But it's your encouragement and kind words that kept me going... till the very end. Thank you all. Truly.
Here's the last part(s) of the story. Hope you enjoy it and do let me know your views (no matter how long or short), one last time :)
At exactly 4pm the next day, the doorbell to his cottage rang and Aditya opened the door to find Zoya. She was there to pick him up for her friend's engagement party.
"Hi, are you ready?" she asked.
Aditya couldn't compose an answer because at that moment, he was stunned. Zoya was wearing a turquoise colored saree with a black printed blouse and she looked ravishing. He had never found her more beautiful than today- and that's saying something, since to him she was always gorgeous.
"What?" she asked, after he was tongue-tied for a minute.
"You..." he almost breathed the word, and cleared his throat, "You look... beautiful."
She pressed her lips and smiled, "Thanks."
She had dabbed rouge on her cheeks but he could tell his compliment made her blush.
"So... are you ready? We need to go," she said, changing the topic.
He nodded, locking the door behind him as they set off.
The engagement ceremony of Zoya's friend, Jenny, was held in a farmhouse a few minutes drive from the city. The garden where the ceremony was held, overlooked the hills and the distant sunset. As sunlight began to recede, lamps were lit and champagne was served.
Zoya and Aditya sat in one of the back-tables, underneath a tree. Zoya was trying to avoid running in to any of her schoolmates. Her break-up with Yash was a recent event and she didn't want it to be the center of attention for the gossip. She anyway wasn't a fan of big crowds. Though hiding was proving to be a tough task since it seemed the entire batch had descended from all over the world to this small town.
Zoya checked the time on her wristwatch. It had been less than an hour since she arrived. She decided she would wait for a few more minutes before ducking out.
She turned to her left and found Aditya, staring at the couple (her friend and the fiance). His eyes were fixed on them though she could tell his thoughts were completely somewhere else.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked him.
Her voice startled him. He cleared his throat and took a sip of the champagne, "Nothing."
"You were reminiscing about your own engagement, weren't you?" she stated, rather than ask.
He gulped and looked at his hands, twirling the champagne flute.
The same thought had crossed her mind. What if she, as originally intended, never went to Ireland? She wouldn't have found about about Yash's betrayal and after he returned, she would've happily accepted his proposal- maybe never unearthing his secret.
"It's all right," she comforted him, "I was too."
He shook his head, "I wasn't reminiscing about the past. There is nothing fond to revisit. I was just... thinking of... the future." He gave her a yearning look when he mentioned 'future'.
Oh. She was mistaken. He hadn't been dwelling in the past rather looking to the future. And he glanced at her when he said that phrase. It made her heart jolt with excitement.
"Want to get out of here?" she asked and he agreed.
They returned to Aditya's place. Zoya plopped on the couch, thanking that she left before she could bump into any one of her old schoolmates. Aditya brewed two cups of black coffee and slouched on the couch, adjacent to her.
"Your work here is almost done," Zoya stated, "You'll be leaving soon."
He nodded, pressing the warm cup in his hands.
"So..." she bit her lower lip, "When do we meet next?"
It was her way of asking where things would move in future for them.
"If this merger is successful," Aditya replied taking a sip of the coffee, "maybe we can replicate it in some other cities... With us heading our respective brands..." He trailed off.
It was a hopeful sign. They would meet again for work. But a part of her was disappointed. Did it mean that they would only meet for some months in the year?
"Can I be honest?" he asked, breaking the silence.
Aditya placed the cup of coffee on the table and lightly traced the back of her hand with his palm before resting it on hers. "I want to be with you. I want us to be together."
Zoya gulped, and looked intently in his eyes.
Aditya straightened his back and inched closer to her. His hands overlapped hers. "I don't know how we'll work things out but I want this. I want us." He paused for a slight moment before continuing, "When I am with you, I wish for nothing else, when I am away from you, I only think of you. You complete me. If this is what love is then Zoya...," he held her gaze, "I love you."
It felt like her heart had skipped a beat. She didn't know how much she wanted to hear him utter those words till today. His unexpected confession made her too stunned to speak.
Her lack of response made Aditya a bit unsure, "You don't have to say anything if you're not ready-," he began to say when she smiled, shaking her head, "Aditya."
She pressed his palm with her hand, "Before you came in to my life, I was blissfully ignorant, living in my own shell. But ever since I met you in the flight to Dublin, my life has completely overturned. You brought me out of my shell, made me grow as a person, helped me at every turn. I could close my eyes and count that you'd have my back. Any time. Even before I started liking you."
She drew a steady breath through her mouth, "And I didn't even realize when, along the way, I fell for you... when I started loving you."
Aditya smiled and gently cupped her face with his hands. Her voice trembled and her eyes moistened. "I love you, Aditya," she whispered and inched her face close to his. "I love you." She breathed the words and kissed his lips.
His hands wrapped around her waist as he pulled her on his lap. Crouched on the small sofa, their bodies pressed against one another. Zoya ran her hand through his hair, pulling him closer to her.
Aditya's fingers fiddled with the back buttons of her blouse. She broke the kiss and pulled away. Looking into his eyes, she gave a slight nod. Aditya gulped and unhooked the buttons, one by one. The blouse slithered down, revealing her skin, inch by inch.
"You are beautiful," he mumbled before leaving a trail of kisses on her neck and bare shoulder, "so beautiful."
Zoya trembled, arching her back as she let the loose end of the saree slide down. The way Aditya looked at her and ran his finger over her skin, evoked a heat in her. Her fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt and she took it off. Their bare warm skin flushed against each others.
Aditya gently pushed her on the couch and climbed on top of her. Her hair was spread out against the cushion. She stretched her hands and pulled him down to her.
Her hands traveled to the buckle of his belt and she fidgeted with it. He asked, "Are you-." She cut him in, "Yes, I am." She was certain of what she wanted and at this moment, she wanted him. She needed him.
Slowly their clothing came off and bare bodies moved against each other till they became one.
(Months later- Night of Feb 13)
"How can we be lost!" Zoya grumbled at Aditya who was behind the wheel, driving the car.
"Hey, don't blame me. I followed your instructions," Aditya responded gesturing at the phone in Zoya's hands. The navigation app was open but not functioning. A "re-routing" was splashed on the screen.
She huffed at him and shook her head, "So typical of you."
On work front, after the success of their merger in Mussoorie, Zoya and Aditya had began their own subsidiary venture. They replicated their model in different cities. This meant that they spent most of their time together- sometimes based out of Mussoorie and sometimes, out of Mumbai. It was a good balance- something which they had talked about earlier.
Currently they were driving to a small hill station called Ranikhet, some 9 hours from Mussoorie. They wanted to check out the area to gauge if they could invest and build a resort there.
Zoya had driven half the distance and now Aditya had taken charge. They were supposed to reach by nightfall but it seemed that they were lost. Aditya had pulled over on the side of the narrow dirt road and rolled down the windowpane. It was a clear night and the stars were shining brightly.
"When you were driving, I gave proper instructions. This just proves that you are bad at navigation," he retorted playfully, "This situation is giving me a serious dj vu."
Zoya narrowed her eyes at him. Exactly a year back, on Feb 13, they were lost somewhere in Ireland and had a very similar argument about who was at fault- the map-reader, Zoya or the driver, Aditya?
She shook her head, "Hand me the charger, my phone is about to die."
"I don't have it," he replied, nonchalantly.
Her eyes grew wide, "What do you mean you don't have it? I told you to pack it when leaving from Mussoorie."
"Huh," he responded.
Zoya shook her head again. "That's your response? Okay, give me your phone. Mine's... dead."
"Mine's too," he replied even more casually.
Zoya swiveled her body toward him, "Are you seriously telling me that we are stuck in the middle of nowhere, close to midnight, with no cellphones?"
"That summarizes it," he answered.
"Urgh!" she let out a groan of frustration. "I swear I am so angry at you, Aditya Hooda, I could kill you."
She opened the car door and walked out, looking ahead. It was pitch black. The road was quite narrow that even a u-turn would be difficult, especially at night.
After a moment, Aditya opened the car door and walked over to her. "Here," he handed her a cup of coffee and some chips.
She grudgingly took the cup and sipped. The warm liquid provided her some comfort. "This is just like last year," she commented, her anger slowly mitigating.
"Even the food," she pointed at the chips that Aditya had placed on the hood of the car. The same chips that Aditya would magically appear whenever they were hungry- be it stuck in a car in the middle of nowhere in Ireland, or at a deserted bus-stop, or in a flight.
"What a journey it has been," Zoya commented, reminiscing of the past- their adventures in Ireland, the growth of their relationship in Mumbai and the confession in Mussoorie.
Aditya was quiet the entire time. He hadn't spoken much since quite some time. They were leaning against the hood, looking up at the night sky. The beep in Aditya's wristwatch went off, alerting them of midnight.
"Happy Valentine's day," Zoya greeted him and turned her head down to face him. Aditya had gotten off the hood of the car and was standing in front of her. She too, got off and stood facing him.
"What is it?" she asked, puzzled.
"I..." he stuttered, "I thought I would plan it properly... you know... I was even thinking maybe in a few days when I gathered my nerves... When the moment is right, but somehow, this," he held her gaze, "This feels right."
Zoya arched an eyebrow at him. "What?" A fluttery feeling was taking place in her stomach.
Aditya exhaled deeply and got down on one knee. He took out a diamond ring from his pocket and held it in front of her.
Zoya clasped her palm on her mouth, astonished at what was going to happen.
"Zoya Siddiqui," Aditya's tone was sincere, "This last year, with each passing day, I have fallen more and more in love with you. Will you do me the honor of-."
"Yes!" Zoya exclaimed before he could finish. "Yes, I will marry you!"
Grinning, Aditya got up and slid the ring on her slender finger. He grabbed her and hugged her tight, kissing her. "I love you." He whispered against her mouth. "I love you too," she replied, kissing him back with equal fervor.
"Wait a minute," she pulled apart, "Are we really lost or is this some scheme of yours to recreate out 1st Valentine's together?"
"I wish I was that creative," he chuckled, "But no, we are truly lost."
Zoya giggled and kissed Aditya on his cheek. They stood, huddled close in the warmth of each other, as the night sky overhead twinkled with a thousand stars.
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