Mili was uptight. In fact, that had become quite the usual for her nowadays. Anxiety, confusion, sheer nervousness when she was in Ahaan’s company; agitation, restlessness, a maddening confusion when she was not—for sure she was becoming irreversibly unhinged, she had no doubt about it.
She contemplated herself in the mirror; having lost count on how many times she had changed her outfit tonight. Nothing seemed to fit the bill. It was going to be the first time they would be seen socially together and she didn’t want to let him down, rather she wanted to impress him, make him puff up with pride. But how—she worried as her eyes ran critically over her shapely frame enhanced to perfection by the charcoal dress with a silvery sheen that shimmered each time she moved. Was it too revealing? No, she didn’t think so; it did cling but not too blatantly, with the scoop neck revealing just the right amount of silky skin. But would he think so too?
Oh Ahaan! How much do I not know about you!
“But I don’t care! Let him think what he wants to! After all, it was his decision to marry me, not mine!” She defiantly addressed her reflection.
But I look so pale! She thought the very next moment, giving her cheeks a remedial pinch.
A glance at the clock told her that there were still 10 minutes to the rendezvous, but her feet had already made up their mind. They swung over the window sill and took off under the cover of semi darkness to the front gates.
“Mili? You are here? I was hesitating…”
She swung around and almost instantly keeled over.
“I… I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright. Those spiky heels weren’t made to handle these cobblestone paths.”
Damn why does he have an excuse for everything! She thought as strength slowly returned to her legs. But then he repositioned his hands on the small of her back.
“You can let me go now.” Please don’t.
“I got carried away, it isn’t everyday that I get an opportunity to hold my future wife this close. Don’t complain if after the wedding you are overwhelmed by a severe claustrophobia.”
Her fingers sought purchase on the iron trellis.
“Are you alright Mili?”
“Yes… I am fine!” If you would just stay away from me!
A few deep breaths rejuvenated her near dead limbs, helping her assume a more dignified posture. But the confidence didn’t last long.
She skeptically eyed a large electric blue bike which stood outside.
“Sid was nice enough to let me borrow it tonight.”
“I’d rather have preferred a 4 wheeler.”
“But it wouldn’t have served the purpose…” He said mysteriously.
“What purpose?” Her large gypsy eyes demanded.
“The purpose of persuading my shy Mili to fling her arms around her Ahaan and hang on for dear life as we ply up and down these steep roads,” he suggested with a sly glint in his eyes.
“Don’t be so sure. That will not happen. I was born in these hills!”
He didn’t care to shoot back a fitting retort. He didn’t have to for soon enough she was compelled to retract her words though she did try to resist bravely but a couple of steep hairpin bends did the trick.
She succumbed albeit quite happily; allowing her arms to snake securely around his broad chest, while her head sought solace in the warm comfort of his sturdy back.
Mili must have fallen asleep, for she didn’t move when Ahaan stopped at their destination. He paused, rejoicing in the tender intimacy of the moment, accentuated several fold by the pensive solitude of the surroundings. Then his face broke into a broad grin, when she protested irritably, upon being gently nudged awake.
“Seems like my lady has been losing on quite a bit of beauty sleep lately.” He uttered in a teasing drawl.
She flushed tumbling off the bike at once, “where have you brought me? Weren’t we supposed to go to some kind of a party?” She asked in a brusque tone in an attempt to mask her discomposure, ‘seems like we are lost.”
“No ma’am, we are not; if you’d just care to direct your gaze due south.”
Sure enough. About a quarter of a mile down the side of the hill, obscured by a dense wall of scrub, Mili could see and hear signs of raucous activity.
“It’s called ‘the Death Trap’, rightly so don’t you think? The owner must possess quite a sense of humor.” Ahaan murmured at her side.
Humor? I would rather call it malevolent mischief! Must be a man thing! Mili thought as she eyed the steep uneven steps hewn into the hillside with considerable trepidation.
But just as she placed a wary foot forward, she was whipped up into a pair of rugged arms.
“Ahaan!” She gasped, as her heart relocated into her throat, “I can do it on my own.”
“I’m sure you can. But I’m not willing to take any chances. We are getting married in 4 weeks and I won’t let anything come in the way if I can help it! You are too precious to me.” He declared in a tone that encouraged no arguments, and began to cautiously pick his way in the semi darkness.
I wouldn’t want to put it off either. She agreed wholeheartedly, criss crossing her arms around his wiry neck. And as she snuggled close, her nostrils were assailed by a strong whiff of his masculine scent that led to the development of a strange ache somewhere deep inside her stomach. She drew away trembling.
“Don’t fret. Your Ahaan won’t let you fall,” He muttered mistaking her agitation for fear and jerked her closer.
A piercing whistle rudely brought her back to the present. This was accompanied by a loud cheer.
“Here they are!”
“The dynamic duo!”
Blushing self consciously, she looked around and found that they were surrounded by a sizable group of their old school mates. She stumbled out of Ahaan’s embrace.
“They wanted it to be a surprise,” He managed a sheepish grin, now sorely wishing that he had taken her elsewhere.
“What an entry! Are you trying to tell us that the most sought after girl in school now belongs to the most stuffy nerd, so keep off?” Quipped Rohan, a tall, loose limbed gaunt faced classmate of Ahaan whose sole claim to fame was that of being the school bully and it appeared the reputation had stuck.
“Yes, you could say so. Keep off or bear the consequences.” Ahaan snapped back while holding Mili firmly by his side.
What is it about the female race, that reduces grown men into brawling juveniles? Mili felt suddenly powerful.
The bully turned to her, with a disdainful curl of his thin lips, “You didn’t find a less unattractive Geek? Poor Mili.”
Mili sensed Ahaan’s frame stiffen. Placing a restraining hand on his chest she gazed admiringly up at him, “Geek he may be, but an unattractive one? Never! You better reinvent yourself Rohan. Read some books for a change.”
Ahaan’s eyes softened and she could see that her words had come as a pleasant surprise to him. She didn’t regret the impromptu declaration. Rather it made her feel light and very happy.
There were sounds of a scuffle in the background. Rohan hadn’t taken kindly to her advice.
“Hey cool down! Remember we are here to celebrate and not to bicker like in school. What say Mili?”
Mili lips twisted into a spontaneous smile when she saw Sid (the clown) wink mischievously. His presence always worked wonders in tense situations.
After he had made sure that Rohan had been carted away to a safe distance, he twirled around with his pudgy arms spread out wide, “listen folks. I know that a lot of hearts lie broken today but none more so than mine!” He made a show of dabbing his eyes with the edge of a table napkin and then spread it on the ground in front of Mili.
“Now if you will be kind enough to walk on it, the destruction will be complete.”
“Do it Mili! He deserves it!”
Mili giggled and obliged. She knew most of what Sid said was in jest. And no one knew it better than his wife Tanya, who was standing in the periphery cheering her on.
The mood had lightened considerably and the evening moved on. The party, Mili discovered had been Sid’s idea who also happened to be Ahaan’s best friend.
He had managed to dig out quite a few of their old friends, and Mili was grateful for it. It was wonderful to reacquaint, rediscover and share memories. And she was pleased to see that almost everybody approved of Ahaan and her match. Indeed some had even predicted it.
“You see, love and hate happen to be two sides of the same coin, and no better example than our very own Ahaan and Mili!” Her best friend Annie announced throwing an ‘I told you so’ look at Mili which made her blush pink and the pink turned to red when she was forced to watch a slideshow of old school pictures and there appeared to be plenty that showed Ahaan and her together, in the most unflattering of situations.
“Now who would have even guessed the turn of events? I for one did not until I was witness to this….” Annie paused for effect before displaying the final picture which showed Ahaan tenderly wrapping his jacket around a shivering rain soaked Mili.
“Aahh… ishq ho toh aisa!” (If there is love, let it be like this.)
Mili peaked at Ahaan out of the corner of her eyes and saw him watching her intently and it made her heart sing. She was sure now more than ever that he was the right man for her,… the only one.
And then the moment came. One she was least prepared for.