“Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!” He hissed alarmed, pressing his palm tighter against her mouth. Priya struggled, fear clearly announcing it’s presence in her eyes. She parted her lips and bit down. Judging by his painful grunt and the immediate withdrawal of his hand from her face she knew she had sunk her teeth hard in his flesh.
“Ah!” He shook his hand at his side taking a moment afterwards to rub over the indent that her bite left on the fleshly prominence under his ring finger. The tall, well pronounced toned man spoke past the initial sting, desperate in his aim to stop her from screaming he ignored the throbbing heated pain of her bite mark on his palm and stated in a rush, “Priya, please don’t scream… It’s me…Remember me?”
Still clinging on to her phone Priya stammered in shock with blood streaming to her cheeks commencing an embarrassing apology, “u-uhh..u-hh- (she finally managed to say) I am so so sorry R-rajat..." Priya rocked forward to help in some way but swayed back immediately realizing the ineffectiveness of her ability to aid in a situation that she started. "I'm so sorry!" She uttered repeatedly in a looped chorus. A fog of confusion blanketed her mind leaving her blank with regards to Ram on the phone. And Ram, the eager businessman, who wasn’t familiar with being placed on hold that too by a middle class woman like Priya, called out to her through the speaker grill of her phone to no avail.
“Please Priya don’t apology” Rajat curled his bottom lip ever so slightly biting down on it’s soft texture hurling Priya into a new dimension of desire. Although, Priya never made it clear with a confession that she liked Rajat, he had always known by the way that she used to look out for him during their college days. “It was actually my fault to have snuck up on you like that.” Combing his sweat slicked hair with one thorough brush of his fingers into its lush softness, he continued. “Actually I was returning from my morning jog, you know I still like to stay fit…” His laid back sense of humor forced her lips into a subtle smile. “But Priya what are you doing here? Do you live here?” He glanced at the door behind her, which she had silently closed. And than the thought of Ram on hold splashed through her conscience like a rough wave slapping a rock repeatedly. Priya jerked her hand looking at her cell when Rajat intervened, “I am so sorry, you were in the middle of a call?” Flustered by the presence of the man of her dreams she spoke promptly unaware of any consequence that might ensue, “It’s actually no one important… In fact I was just about to hang up…” Rajat flashed his classic charming smile and glanced down at her cell “Are you sure?”
“Yes, I- I am.” She firmly pressed the end call button not realizing past her excitement that her one action would wreck havoc on the other end of the line and she would surely feel its wrath.
“So, tell me. How have you been? And what brings you here?” He started his sentence with a victorious smile that slowly but surely transformed into a look of sincere wonder. Helpless like a teenager in front her crush she told Rajat everything that he wanted to hear, leaving out the significant part about Ram and Sheena. Just as she had finished her painful rendition of the night and before Rajat could begin to offer his sympathy on the subject matter, Ram called Priya again… Eager to impress, Priya quickly rejected his call once more, as if she was an expert at hanging up calls from egotistic rage-a-holics.
“oh my god, I am so sorry to hear that… But you can’t possibly stay here…Let me help you out…Why don’t you and your family stay at my Mumbai mansion… In fact I’ll get my driver to drop you guys off first thing in the morning.”
“No Rajat, it’s okay…”
“Come on… I insist, you are my good friend, it’s the least I can do.”
Priya lied to get him off the topic, there was no way she could accept such a huge favour from Rajat, no matter how tempting it was, without being completely honest with him about her situation with Ram. “Rajat, this is just a temporary thing. Papa has some money saved and we will be shifting from here either tomorrow or the day after. But what are you doing here, this definitely isn’t a five star hotel that you are probably accustomed too?”
“Okay Priya, if you insist. And come on, you know that I wasn’t born with luxuries; I am very accustomed to this kind of living arrangement.” He chuckled and added. “Honestly though, I was so tired from my flight that I picked any hotel to lay my head down for a bit… Thankfully I did cause I ended up meeting you… God I missed you so much, but you just went off the radar.”
Priya blushed, “Rajat I have always been here, you just became a big businessman and forgot little people like me.”
Almost as if on cue, Rajat grabbed a hold of Priya’s hands, “there wasn’t a day that went by in my life in which the thought of us never crossed my mind. I even called you several times on your old number but wasn’t able to reach you…I guess it changed when you moved, right?” She nodded lost in his worry filled pupils. “How can you so easily assume that I had forgotten you? You know I love you…”
Rajat’s cleverly sought out path to her heart met an obstacle named Ram Kapoor who refused his access to her emotions for his own selfish needs. “I bet I love her more…” Ram’s voice came from behind them forcing them apart. Walking gingerly towards Rajat and Priya whose attentions he had seized, Ram took Priya’s hand in his and placed a hesitant kiss on it like a gentleman. “And I know she loves me too.” Priya’s inner conscience cried like a little girl who had just had her favourite toy snatched and destroyed right before her innocent eyes. Rajat was the object of her desire, the only thing that she wanted that was solely for her. Now when it seemed like he was actually coming to his senses regarding feeling he had for her, she would have to dance to Ram’s tune for the sake of her family and portray a lie that she had moved on. She was used to strangling her heart with her bare hands but this time it hurt so much more, “Mr. Kapoor this is Rajat, my best friend from college.” With a possessive and uncomfortable hold on Priya’s hand Ram gave a slight nod of his head to acknowledge Rajat. “And Rajat this is…”
Piping up mid-sentence Rajat stated with a competitive grin on his face. “Ram Kapoor, THE Ram Kapoor.” Extended his hand forward for a shake Ram rejected his introductory gesture with a rude glare followed by, “I don’t shake hands...with people I do not know or have no intention of knowing.”
Priya observed helplessly as Rajat dryly pulled his hand back, “Really Ram, you don’t know me? We were both contenders for the top businessman of the year award. Honestly, dude it could’ve gone to either one of us…Maybe this year since you have lady luck on your side you might win, but just know that I am not used to losing.” His last few words although disguised had an obvious meaning. This guy was a prick, a cactus dressed up as rose with a charm that screamed bootleg but Priya was completely sold. Well Ram couldn’t blame her, he thought as he caught a glimpse of the coy smile that Rajat shared with Priya, “To a beggar, anything that sparkles is a diamond.”
Clearing his throat Ram spat out a firm blow of his own, “Rajat, I am a businessman and when I take on a challenge, I win…”
“Touché, my friend. Let’s just see how everything plays out… The best challenge is one with a worthy opponent otherwise it’s just a victory with no meaning.” Out of anger and irritation Ram clenched his fist tighter squeezing Priya’s hand unintentionally, she clutched his arm with the same pressure hoping he’d get her message to release his hold. Meanwhile Rajat continued, “Dude can I borrow your pen.” Rajat pointed to one straddling the edge of Ram’s chest pocket. And before Ram could hand it to him, Rajat grabbed it with a cocky grin facing up to the red of rage plastered on Ram’s face. All Ram could do was watch on as Rajat grabbed a hold of Priya’s free hand and began writing his digits. “Priya now that we have reunited, let’s keep in touch. Call me and we can grab some coffee and catch up…” She nodded and smiled hiding her grimace beneath it. Placing the pen with a cocky grin, back into Ram’s chest pocket, he bid adieu to the cautious couple and got into the elevator, winking at Priya as the steel doors came to a sliding shut in front of him. Ram released Priya’s hand putting an end to the charade that no longer had an audience to fool. Priya massaged her compressed palm in an attempt to ease the pain from his grip while Ram tugged his pen from his pocket and chucked it sideways on the floor. Hearing the faint click clack of its dimension as it ricocheted down the hallway subdued his anger a smidgen and brought Priya face to face with the stark reality that she had consciously provoked a battle within an already unsettled war. Their eyes met like locked horns with no intent of backing down from an otherwise futile battle of the egos. And it began with his remark paving away from the traditional expectation of ladies first. He took one step forward, she took a half step back and stopped still when she concluded that another retreating step from her end would set her up as bait for an early death.
Ram: (Stern sketched expression though he spoke emotionless) Priya what are you doing out here? You have just sustained an injury to your shoulder, if you waltz about all night long how do you expect to recover? For gods sake Priya, can't you ever just once think about yourself?
Priya glanced around at the pale painted walls of the corridor, “Was there a camera hidden somewhere in the cracks in the walls of this tacky hotel?” Besides her and Ram there was no one else in sight, save the random eerie clicking sounds that echoed every so often. So what had gotten into Ram, why the sudden concern? Priya decided she had to put a dagger in whatever ‘this’ was and so she uttered mis- beginning to form the words Mr. Kapoor but he robbed her the chance to start let alone finish her sentence.
Ram: (the concern plastered on his face was mimicked with genuineness in his voice) No Priya, not a single word! I don’t want to hear anything. Has it ever dawned on you, how much I love you and how much it hurt me every uncertain second you were in the hospital not sure whether you would wake up. And when I saw you alive and well at the police station that was the happiest moment of my life.
Priya scoffed with a look of relief on her face like a light had just turned on in her head. With her palm slightly elevated up for his plain sight to see, looking as if she was taking an oath to put an end to this madness, she spoke.
Priya: (spoke jeeringly) Baas Baas! I know exactly what this is about. And (she glanced around to prove her point) you don’t have to pretend like we have some sort of an emotional connection; there is no one around. (Adding the final blow) Besides, it’s bad enough that I had to pretend to like you in front of everyone at the police station; the least you can do is let me express how I really feel about you in these moments alone.
Ram came with his wits for this early morning interaction that would have happened regardless of the fact that she hung up his calls. In fact he had been waiting outside the hotel not motivated enough to walk into such a downgraded living arrangement.
Ram: Don’t flatter yourself; you’re not my type… (To that comment Priya squinted her eyes and offered him her famous evil glare) And everything that I said was to prove a point.
Priya: (spoke with a sarcastic interest) Mr. Kapoor you don’t have to prove anything to me… I already know that you’re crazy… Any why are we still pretending that we like each other?
Ram: (scoffed) Of course, I didn’t expect you to get the point… (she listened with her arms crossed across her chest like she didn’t care) Well let me explain, I wanted to prove how realistic this fake relationship thing is and I came here to tell you that we have to carry on with this charade until I say it’s over.
Priya: (with an appalled expression she stepped back and eyed him) No way! That was just a one-time thing… to get Sheena to shut up and leave the police station.
Ram: it’s funny how you think that you have a choice… I wasn’t asking you, I am telling you that that’s what’s going to happen from now on.
Priya: (stuck firm on her response) No! No way! I am not going to play along any further. You’re lucky I even amused the idea at the police station and in front of Rajat just to give you a chance to explain yourself…
Ram: (with a certain selling tone) You wouldn’t even do this for Kush?
As he flung his trump card Ram couldn’t help but feel a bit embarrassed. Even though this was all a sham it was shameful that he had to blackmail a girl into being his ‘pretend’ girlfriend. Any other girl would just name their price to participate in this drama but not Priya and this lack of manipulation drove Ram bonkers.
Priya: (clearly from her voice she was getting a bit frustrated) How would Kush benefit from this arrangement at all?
Ram: (on cue he began speaking like he was presenting a business proposal to a beneficial delegate) Didn’t you see the look on Sheena’s face when we said that we loved each other? It seemed like somebody had just pulled the ground from up under her feet. If we continue on with this fake relationship than finding out Kush’s real identity will be the least of her worries. She will try to break us up but that will only bring us closer together, which will mess with her more. I just want to make her so insecure that she fumbles and slips. We need proof against her and by doing this I think she will let down her guard about other things.
Priya: (defeated, she hated that she was beginning to understand his perspective) Fine. But only on one condition
Ram: (puzzled) What?
Priya: (foolishly feeling as if she had the upper hand) I want an apology.
Ram: For what?
Priya: (she gaped in awe) For what? oh my gosh… For everything… Ever since you came into my life you have been a pain in the ass and you have said so many things to me and my family that you were out of line to say but still you said it.. So I want to hear an apology. Just one “sorry” and all is forgiven.
Ram: (with his ego in overdrive) I am The Ram Kapoor and I don’t apologize even when I am wrong, which I never am or ever will be… And don't try to act smart with me you need Sheena to go to jail just as badly as I do. So are you really going to wager your family’s happiness on a sorry that will have no meaning?
Priya: (glaring at him in disgust) You’re such an ass.
Ram: (with a victorious grin he mocked) really? you think so? I am flattered. (Priya rolled her eyes and turned to go back into her room) Hold on I am not finished yet!
“When have you ever been finished?” She muttered to herself as she stopped, sighed, and turned back around to see him pulling a set of keys out from his pocket.
Ram: (he stretched out his hand with the key in it) One of the perks of dating the Ram Kapoor is that you don’t get to live in shitty places like this. (adding with a swaggering punch) It ruins my image. So take these (he gestured at the keys still laying snug in his plump palm) and shift back into your old apartment. I have ordered my driver to arrive at this location at 8am sharp. People who work for me are never late so be ready on time.
The arrogance with which he presented the keys sparked an instant refusal from Priya, she flat out denied his gift for fear of strings attached.
Priya: (smugly) No thanks… My family and I will manage here until I can afford to shift us somewhere else… I never needed your help before this so why would I now?
Ram: uh excuse me…this isn’t an option for you. Kush will not live here, do you understand? (he took her hand and planted the keys in it, forcefully in his own style) Plus this isn’t a gift of any sort so don’t flatter yourself. It’s a loan that you will pay off by working for me…
Priya: (sarcastically) oh thank you… I’m glad it’s a loan; a gift from THE RAM KAPOOR would be hard to swallow.
Ram: (with a frown keying in on her sassiness) Yeah whatever! Just for the record, you still have to come into work tomorrow. The faster we get this thing over with the better it will be for me.
Priya shook her head in fascination, she did not know when or why she expected Ram to shower some kindness on her and let her rest for a few days. But than again she thought, convincing herself, “It’s probably all for the best anyways. Like he said the faster this is over the better it will be.” And so ignoring her pain, which she had forgotten from the moment she had seen Rajat, Priya stated in confirmation, “Yes I couldn’t agree more with you on that last point! I will see you tomorrow.” With that Ram was on his merry old way feeling satisfied with the conversation because it had gone just as he had planned, which was a rarity when it came to speaking with Priya about anything. From the moment he met her, he knew she was too thick headed for her own good but of course he would never admit that he had met his match!
Priya closed the door behind her leaning exhaustedly against it. She exhaled staring at the keys in her hand. Unintentionally Ram did her a huge favour, she really had no idea how she would be able to dig herself out from this mess that fate had selfishly hurled her family into…
A short distance away, in the Kapoor Mansion Sheena fumed knowing that Ram had been out all night and she assumed that he spent it with Priya. She picked up her phone and dialed her love to complain about the sudden interest that Ram had in Priya. At any cost, she felt obligated for her own peace of mind to strangle this developing relationship while it was still in its beginning phases. Her man answered the phone tiredly and from the moment his voice reached her she began her rant explaining her frustrations, failed plans, and more. When she was finished her Oscar worthy performance, the only thing that the man on the end of the line said was, “Babe, don’t worry!”
Sheena: (on the phone) Don’t worry? (she repeated with more oomph) Don’t worry? You obviously don’t understand how big of an impact Ram and Priya’s relationship will have on my ability to secure more funds. That cheap bastard Siddhant left only a quarter of his shares for me in his will, the rest of it he left for Ram to sort out. Did you know that I have Ram dancing on the palm of my hands and I would like to keep it that way.
Raj: (annoyed) So what do you want me to do? You wanted me to set Priya’s house on fire and make it seem like an accident, I did and babe it didn’t work. Maybe we are overthinking this and this time we got lucky but next time it might not be so.
Sheena: (angrily) Don’t lecture me! You’re useless. You just don’t understand, if Priya sways Ram and I lose control of him you can kiss the rest of Siddhants money goodbye. And with what I have right now the least we can do is live a comfortable middle class life for some time. (she began crying) And I don’t want that Raj, I want to live luxuriously. We deserve it. Why isn’t anything working out? I want to be with you… Can’t we just leave this money behind? Your business is doing so good.
Raj: (now sounding more awake) Baby, please don’t cry. (she sniffled easily coaxed) Look we are so close to being together and living the life that we both dreamt of…I know that we can live off our business but if I just had some more money I can stabilize it so that we never have to worry about being bankrupt. Please… Will you do this one last thing for me? Baby, I love you and want to spend the rest of my life by your side, giving you everything that you deserve. Baby?
Sheena: (she answered still upset) I love you too Raj… But I am so nervous that Ram is getting close to any girl, let alone Priya. We have to do something…
Raj: ummm… (he thought for a second and than added) okay baby I got it… by the end of this week Priya will never want to see Ram ever again… That’s my promise…
Sheena: (intrigued) What? How?
Raj: Leave that to me. (he smiled cunningly) Now please be happy… I am with you every step of the way!
Sheena: (with a sense of ease) I love you…
Raj: I love you too…