“You went to that dhaaba with her? When was this?” Karun asked, still unable to believe that Vineet had kept this secret from him.
“Last week when we were preparing for the freshers’ party. We had to take dinner and there was no option nearby.” Vineet tried to soften it.
“How late was it? Was the canteen not open?”
“It might have been, but I didn’t check it.”
“Well why not? Other than if you were already planning on going out with her, that too on a bike. Very smart, Mr. Romeo.”
Vineet smiled and looked at him. They were in class after the completion of one lecture and awaiting another’s start. A classmate congratulated them on their good show last night in the fashion show and lamented their snub at the hands of the awards committee. After he went away, Vineet said, “I think she loves me too.”
“I was already in love with her. You know that.”
“I don’t know what’s love and what’s not. For all you say, you might even be confusing infatuation with love. Don’t rush headlong into this. Let your brain do some thinking too apart from your heart. Trust me, you don’t want to be wrong here.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean take things as they come. If she’s really interested in you, she’ll give you indications and clues. Keep your eyes and ears open for that.”
The lecturer entered the class just then and they had to break their talks. The lecture was about transformers but Vineet was oblivious to that. He was thinking of how best to go after Jesse. By the time they got free, he had decided he’d follow Karun’s advice but come out clean in front of her.
After classes, they went to the canteen. Vineet texted Jessica to come there too. She replied back that she had lectures so wouldn’t be able to join him. He told Karun that.
“Relax, dude. Give her her own space. Don’t let her feel you’re intruding in her personal space. Otherwise, the rose of your love will wilt before it can blossom.”
“Alright. Let’s have some coffee,” Vineet said, wrapping his arm around Karun’s shoulder.
At the canteen, they saw Ritika sitting with a first-year girl. She waved them over. Karun too waved back and smiled. He went to the counter on the pretext of talking with the manager and as they got there, he whispered to Vineet, “You see the girl sitting with Ritika?”
“Puja. Jessica’s friend from that day when we met her after college and she apologized to us.”
“Oh, okay. So?”
“So it is that I was hitting on her. She was receptive too.”
“Shh. Listen. We were going to go to a movie this evening. I haven’t, obviously, told Ritika about her. Now both of them are together. Could be difficult.”
“You moron. You can’t be satisfied with having one girlfriend. At least think of that poor girl.”
“Yeah, yeah. But I don’t want a lecture right now. Just help me there, okay?”
Vineet didn’t say anything. Karun was looking pleadingly at him. He glared for a couple of seconds before relenting. They went on to join the girls. After Ritika “introduced” them to Puja, they chatted for a while about this and that before Ritika dropped the bomb.
“Karun could you join me for some shopping this evening? I wanted to buy some new clothes. Plus you haven’t gifted me anything for a month. How about you and me get something for me?” She said it with such a twinkle in her eyes that Karun got red in the cheeks. He didn’t even glance at Puja who, he was pretty sure, was burning him with his eyes.
“I..uh..Actually…”Before he could come up with anything, Vineet interrupted, “We are going to Magan’s house in the evening actually. His father was badly injured yesterday in an accident.” Magan was in Civil department in their batch. Ritika knew of him but had never properly met him.
“OMG! Is he out of danger now?”
Karun took the cue. “Pretty much, but we thought we should go to their home.”
“I’ll go too,”Ritika said.
“Er.. what will you do there? You don’t even know him properly. Besides, uncle is okay now. We are going there simply out of courtesy.” Karun tried to reason with her, knowing fully well how crucial this phase was.
“Yeah, and it could be tough for his mom to attend to all of us while simultaneously taking care of his father,”Vineet chimed in.
“But you two are going na?”
“We are pretty informal with his family. You, they have never met you so it will be a different thing totally,” Karun felt this should seize the deal.
“OK, but tomorrow you have to take me shopping,” Ritika said, pouting and making a face.
“Sure, why not?”
After taking snacks, they were about to leave when Ritika said, “Won’t you take Puja to the movie?”
The colour drained from Karun’s face as he realised the implications of what had happened. He couldn’t think of a fitting reply when Ritika said, “I knew you were shady, but I hadn’t expected you to be this cheap,” and started going off.
“Baby, please listen to me,” Karun tried to talk his way out of trouble.
“No baba baby. Don’t you ever call me again.”
Puja, who had watched the entire episode unfold, calmly got up from her seat and took her bag. She looked at him disdainfully, muttering under her breath and walking away.
Vineet stood there with him and said slowly, “As you sow, so shall you reap. Let’s go. C’mon now.”
Jessica was waiting for Vineet near the hostel gate since the last 5 minutes or so, gazing into her smartphone to avoid letting anyone see her frustration.
Stupid! No punctuality even for a date.
“So you do accept you’re falling in love with him.”
“God! Can’t you let me be in peace for a single moment. What else would you call a guy and a girl meeting? A date doesn’t necessarily mean love.”
“Ahem, ahem. We’ll see.”
A tap on her shoulder brought her out of her mental duel. She looked up to see Vineet smiling at her.
“Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting here?”
“I’m sorry. Got stuck up with some problem.”
“What problem? Were you watching an “interesting” match?”
“No, no. Nothing like that. Karun and Ritika had a bit of a tiff at the canteen earlier today. I was trying to pacify the two of them and hence the delay.”
“Whatever. I don’t want to talk to you.”
“Arre, I’m sorry baba. I wouldn’t have been late but for that issue. C’mon, let’s have some dahi-poori.”
“I don’t want to have dahi-poori. I want maskabun-tea.”
A smile formed across Vineet’s lips. “OK boss, let’s have that.”
After the mascabun-tea, followed by veg sandwich and more than a few rounds of panipoori, they left for the nearby park.
Jessica belched loudly. “Sorry, ha ha.”
“Ha ha, never mind,” Vineet laughed.
They sat on an empty bench that overlooked the lake inside the park. People were walking and running all around them. It was a popular destination for joggers.
“Say Jesse, I have a friend, Manoj, who loves a girl but is afraid to talk to her about that. They are good friends, Manoj and the girl, but he hasn’t yet told her about her feelings. What should he do, in your opinion?”
“I think he should come clean in front of the girl. If he doesn’t she wouldn’t know. And then maybe, someone else will do it before him and your friend will have to make do with being a spectator when he could have been the star batsman,” Jessica chuckled at her own analogy.
“But what if she refuses? He risks losing her as a friend too in that case.”
“That’s how it is, Mr. Bakshi. You have to risk something to gain something. Ask your friend to take the plunge.”
Vineet nodded. ‘Manoj’ must understand this.
“You know, I like you a lot,” Vineet said, his heartbeat rising.
“I know that. What can be done when I’m so smart?” Jessica laughed.
“I mean, I really like you a lot. Like you as in love you,” he replied, trembling with excitement and trepidation.
“You don’t even know how to ask a girl to be your girlfriend!” Jessicsa replied playfully. Fireworks were going off in her heart.
“I know. I just did, didn’t I?” He replied excitedly.
“What? Is that a way to ask someone? Tsk.”
“I…I love you Jesse.” He finally blurted out.
“Yes I do duffer. I love you too.” She smiled at him, caressing his hair and winking at him.
He embraced her right then. Tightly, like he didn’t want to let go. She put her arms on his back too.
To Be Continued…..