IV – Fireworks
“Mr. Darcy began to feel the danger of paying Elizabeth too much attention.”
The Eternal City it was aptly named indeed.
The civilization, the beauty and the richness that exclusively belonged to it still remained in the moist winds of the winter evening.
She lived all her life in Rome, settled in this city for three generations as they were. A holiday destination it might be for most of the people, but for her it was the home, she belonged to and so loved.
Bought up in a city which lured tourists, she had often heard tales of how beautiful the city was from more than one non local.
However, she loved Rome not for the ancient churches, or beautiful architecture or any artistic treasures but for other simple reasons.
Places from her childhood, incidents from her adolescence, memories from her life were closely entwined with the city and no matter how many times had she visited the archaeological artistic treasures of the city, she still felt herself drawn to the sheer beauty of it. No wonder she felt the same butterflies in the stomach she felt when she came to this place for the first time; when she was twelve.
Trevi fountain – the place she had come to a million times, the place whose warmth she would seek a million times in the days to come cocooned her in its warmth, making her feel the warm fuzzy feeling that she always experiences when she was here.
She closed her eyes and threw the coin with her right hand over her left shoulder, facing her back to Trevi fountain once, and then twice.
Smiling, she opened her eyes only to find herself amidst festive celebrations.
She loved crowds.
Especially the ones during Christmas. There was a festive season in the air with beautiful lights adorning the alleys, Christmas carols audible, happy crowds jostling around, musicians playing light music, and Kushal staring at her with his arms crossed…
One look at him destroyed whatever peace that was remaining as his presence she voluntarily ignored since morning was made as real as the cold breeze that caressed her cheeks.
Kushal Vaish, the supposed man to whom she was to act as a guide remained a royal pain in the ass to her.
Though he hadn’t done a thing in reality, his mere presence irked her, his body language, his laconic responses, the way he stood with his hands in his pockets, or the way he stared down at her with his sky rocketing nose high held in air, or his mere existence made her skin crawl. Never had she felt such a strong dislike against anyone, but then whom was she kidding, she had never met anyone who can even come close to His Highness.
It would’ve been a nightmare to have an outing with him, if she had to make a small talk with him. However, since her promise to her sister of showing him around the city didn’t include her talking, she stuck to the business, taking him to tourist places, and keeping a distance and pretending that she never knew him. She pretended that it was an outing for herself, while the man trailed behind her lazily doing whatever he wanted to. In a way, it was the best option for both of them. She believed she gave him ample of time to check out women if he wanted that. If his arrogant ass didn’t allow him to appreciate beauty and instead made him ponder about the history of the places they visited, she believed his smart phone would be his guide, history teacher and everything that he ever wanted it to be.
She didn’t mind about her justice of being an ideal host with him. She frankly didn’t care. She had more pressing issues to worry about at the moment. Like the lack of response from her sister even after sending millions of texts to her. There was anxiety and nervousness that she was suppressing inside her wondering about the million possibilities of Payal’s future.
Immersed in her own world as she was, she had almost forgotten the presence of His Highness around her until this moment of course, where she still was facing her back against the fountain with soft sound of water flow in the background, while he stood few steps ahead of her, his hands in pockets, and staring at her with an intensity that pricked her skin.
Sunaina felt her cheek involuntarily wondering if there was something on her cheek. Else, why would he stare at her like that.
However, that simple gesture of hers made him smile, making her narrow her eyes and before she knew he was before her, standing tall.
She took an involuntary step and stumbled on her feet, only to have his firm grip on her wrist as if to stabilize her.
“What’s with you and money? Sometimes it’s you throwing them into water, sometimes on strangers’ face” she heard him and raised her irritated eyes to him, and pulled his hand off of her wrist.
It amazed her how this man said so little yet made her shit mad at him. He can give classes to annoy a saint.
“It is a shame that you stand before Trevi fountain and don’t know the greatness of it. Legend says dropping one coin in it says you’ll come back to Rome. Two signifies you will come back and fall in love. Three, says that you’ll come back, fall in love and marry”
He saw her profile turn towards the fountain that is behind her, as a small smile lit up her features. However, when she turned to face him, the smile was evaporated.
“But alas if we find time from insulting people, we might have been knowing these things” she mumbled, before adjusting her hand bag on her wrist and walking past him.
He stared back at her retreating form and back at the Trevi fountain before following her.
“Interesting” he muttered. The evening was not boring, as he expected it to be after all.
“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
Glasses clinked and happiness prevailed in the dining room. Light music wafted, conversations exchanged, leg pulling was done, memories captured.
Sunaina saw her family and Mayank’s sitting over the dining table, deep in conversation. Her father and Mayank’s father were in a deep conversation as if they’re school friends. Their mothers were laughing over something too. She sipped her orange juice as she saw how her family has extended just in a matter of a week. The ring on Payal’s finger sparkled in the dim light and she smiled lifting her glass slightly as a toast when her sister’s gaze met hers.
“Holding one’s glass without drinking after offering a toast is considered to be impolite” she heard a deep baritone from beside her and narrowed her eyes to the person beside her.
There goes His Highness, she thought irritably. The man she so much come to dislike who was staying at their place was also part of the family dinner. She hadn’t known whether to kick him or kill him. The man gave her every reason to dislike him, every time she thought to forget and get past it.
It all started with him insulting her on the alley, followed by ruining her mobile which was dead after it kissed the floor. Third, he spoiled her long lazy weekend plans by making her act as his guide for two whole days with his slow intrusion in her life and thoughts. And then, the most important and irritating fact was that he was the reason for her father’s initial reluctance towards accepting Mayank and Payal’s relationship.
Kushal visited Rome for business; to take over the branch of their company which has been running in losses for three consecutive quarters and is in the danger of being termed as a sick company if any action hasn’t been taken. Though his visit to Rome seemed legitimate, his coming to her home was anything but innocent. He was the man chosen by her father for Payal. The so called showing around the city her father arranged for Payal was not an accident. It was a means to set her up with him; a fact no one is aware of, not even Payal. Had her sister forgone the date with Mayank that day to meet Kushal, her story would’ve been a lot different. And Sunaina for one was not even ready to consider the what ifs.
She closed her eyes and took in a deep breath before facing him with a poker face.
“Intruding in someone’s private moments is also considered to be rude, if you don’t know” she said meeting Kushal’s gaze head on even as she put on the smile to bluff her family.
He passed her a smile before touching his glass to hers in a low clink “Cheers” he whispered leaning towards her, before raising the drink to his lips, making her narrow her eyes at him.