Chapter 1 - Pilot
“Niti! Can you believe it? I got an internship at MTV. Yaay!” She barged into our house before I could even open the door completely, jamming my toes into the little gap.
“Ow!” I whimpered, but all she did was hug me so tight that I felt breathless. Yeah, she was my crazy ‘moti,’ my best friend Barsha, the closest to me among our entire ‘gang,’ if I could call us that. She flocked around, jiggling along the way. She looked a lot like the younger version of my mother, which made me miss Maa a little less. She was everything you needed in a sibling! Our families were friends even before we were born. She was the only reason my parents let me live in Mumbai.
About her job, to be honest, I was happier for her than she was. She’d been trying for this job for six months and I heard apparently her director was a shrewd man with rules of his own that people had to abide by.
“So, you hosting a party tonight?” Aashna screamed from behind me, after hiking the volume on the boombox to compliment Barsha’s joy. Aashna was a colleague of Barsha’s, who was currently dating my ex, so she and I weren’t on the best of terms. Actually, which adult does not have any issues with anybody? I don’t know one person like that. Nevertheless, we shared a friendship circle, so we were cordial with each other for the most part.
The booming music in the living room added to my worries. Barsha and I were two people flatting a small apartment in the city of Mumbai–the heart of Maharashtra with a population of about a million out of which I was stuck with the noisiest four. The landlord already had a problem with me and my profession that sought random ‘visitors’ coming in and out. I didn’t want to ruin anybody’s mood, but I didn’t want any trouble my way. I punched the stereo system off and then grabbed my phone and book off the couch.
Siddharth was sitting right there, with his head lazily thrown back over the couch’s headrest, and his popping jawline shifting subtly. I couldn’t tell if he still had feelings for me, but I just hated that he moved on so darn quickly! I turned indifferent towards him immediately, heading out of his sight.
Aashna whispered something to Renee and Barsha, to which Barsha swatted her off and tried to ease some tension. “Of course babe. You know how much this means to me, don’t you? Taylor, you remember what you had to do for me?” Barsha exclaimed, calling for my attention as she saw me leaving the premises and climbing the stairs.
“Allow me two pages of ‘Gone Girl,’ I’ll get started!” I ran up to my room and settled by the comfy spot on the windowsill. I put a small mattress over it, fluffed it up with an old folded duvet that I sewed some cute fabric onto. Lined up with soft, plush cushions made that spot unique to my identity if anyone was looking for me if I wasn’t at an audition that was where I was.
Friday monsoon evenings are a signature Mumbai attraction–or a signature Niti Taylor time of the season. Monsoon is a beautiful blend of humidity and chilly breezes, especially in Mumbai where the wind whirls only around this time of the year.
I am not a super-romantic, lovey-dovey girl. I admire romance, but not unrealistic fairytales. You can date and not be in love, or you can be in love but still not be together. I believe there is more to love than just the heart. For example, bodies... lust accompanies love. Nobody falls in love with a short, plump woman who sits in her shell. Nobody will fall in love with me.
I heard footsteps walk in. “Okay Taylor, you are the only one single here. So let’s get you dolled up.” Renee pulled me along, and I almost tripped on my own feet twice, trying to stop myself.
“Renee, listen. I’m good with a simple dress. Anyways, ‘love isn’t about looks’.” I said, with a sigh. Contradictory, much? Well, if I ever got started about how I was unattractive, those women wouldn’t let me breathe.
“Tonight it’s not going to be love,” Barsha smirked. “Also, I popped the biscuit base myself.”
“The cheesecake is probably gonna burn. Let me go.” I struggled as they literally dragged me and cuffed me near the closet.
“Anubhav, make sure the cheesecake is fine.” He whistled at them, and I murmured a couple of curses. How could they all work in unison like that for anything against my wish? After minutes of rummaging through my closet, they found a perfect match. It was a black and gold, single strapped wrapped dress. It looked flashy. God knew when I bought it. Ahh... For my graduation party from Forever 21. Some memories flashed in, not very pleasant ones.
Okay, you know what Siddharth? I’m getting over you.
“Gosh baby, you look so pretty. Go for it.” I smiled and took the dress from them, but they didn’t let me.
“Uh-ah? Go shower first. You are in your pajamas for heaven-sake. You have 10 minutes. And your time starts NOW.” They screamed in unison, and I ran into the bathroom. I liked these kinds of games, with them especially. We were pretty childish that way, but they made me appear happier and more fun to be with.
I took a quick hot shower, lathering my scented body wash everywhere. I changed into the dress hanging at the door within 8 minutes, and poof! I curled my hair and pinned a part of it to the back, while the rest were covering my bare shoulder. Barsha and Renee loaded my face with makeup, while the couple smothered each other with kisses and God knew what else.
“Guys...” I was ordered to shut my eyes closed as brushes wiggled around different segments of my face.
“Taylor shut that mouth.” After a long 20 minutes, I could open my eyes and actually, surprisingly, I looked stunning, actually smoking hot! They had replicated my favorite Priyanka Chopra look to such insane perfection!
Anubhav walked in with the frozen cheesecake and all that could leave his lips were, “WHOA-WOW!” The girls smiled at each other, while I felt suddenly uncomfortable with the unnatural attention.
“So Ms. Taylor, I shouldn’t be shocked if you get laid tonight!” I rolled my eyes at Renee, only little did I know what was awaiting me that night.
We were at Aer, a 5-star pub at Worli, Mumbai. Again, I was singled out. Barsha, Anubhav, and Aashna and Siddharth were all hanging out as couples while I sat in a corner, alone again. Instead, I could’ve just stayed home doing my thing. All the time I’d spent on dragging myself out with those friends of mine was a mere waste. At first, Barsha was with me, while Anubhav had gone to pick up his girlfriend from her place. That was only until her man showed up. She asked me to join her, but I didn’t want to be an awkward third-wheel. That’s the worst feeling ever.
While I was eyeing the nasty couple who couldn’t take their hands off each other, I heard a husky voice, coated with a distinct accent that rung in my head. “So what’s your story?” It would be a sin if I couldn’t put a face to that voice. I adjusted my hair strands and looked up beside me at the bewitching beast, who was trying to study me. I felt a sense of spontaneous comfort as he sat on the stool beside me, tossing his club ID.
“Membership in a 5-star pub, huh? You must be rich!” I shrugged my shoulders nonchalantly like a boss, forcing my hair to plop off and fall south. I noted he was wearing a black shirt, dark blue jeans and a black jacket with a red trim. His hair was gelled perfectly, and his legs were casually sprawled. He exuded confidence on the first impression. He didn’t answer my question. All he did was maintain his smug expression.
“Well... Let’s talk about you first.” He swayed, and the glass clicked against the countertop as he slid it towards me. I uneasily stretched my spine back, weighing the pros and cons before impatiently gripping the artefact around its body. The smile never left his face. I took a whiff of the sparkly liquid before eyeing him and sipping it. It’s just water... Just bubbly, sweet water...
“That was quick, huh?” I swallowed a little bit of saliva too, to get rid of the mild aftertaste that was foreign to my mouth.
His fingers swiveled around a metal wristband on his right hand, that was for so long hidden under his sleeve. Something about him seemed mysterious and attractive in a unique way. He adjusted his coat over his full chest. My eyes fell on those perfect carves that were molded into place with his shirt. Pardon me if my jaw dropped after that. “For a first timer, yes!”
“How do you know that?”
He spun around in his circular stool, now facing me. His long fingers ran through his cocoa mane. “I go first.” I raised an eyebrow cockily, to which he pressed his lips casually. His conspicuous persuasion worked like a spell. Damn, that man was something.
“Okay... So you see that man in that girl’s arms, who just won’t take her hands off? Yeah, I got dumped by him for being too clingy. She isn’t any different!” Exhaling a miff at the end of my sentence added to the drama component I was trying to convey. There was a moment of silence before he snickered while closing his lips. “Excuse me?” He shook his head, pretending to mind his own business after getting me all riled up. I frowned.
“No, I see what he means...” I was borderline offended, but I didn’t feel it. My smart-ass brain was trying to work out why he was smirking. For God’s sake, it only made the room a few degrees hotter. My last ounce of resistance, for the purpose of womanhood, was sucked out when phone jiggled in his pocket, making him flex a bicep in the process. WOW!
For a fact I knew I looked smoking that night. It was the perfect chance to take control of the entire situation and serve the purpose I invited myself into. I watched how his long index finger rubbed the corner of his temple, trying to decipher what it was about him that made him so fucking irresistible.
“Uh no, actually I’m caught up on something else.” As he said the words ‘caught up,’ his eyes flicked to me, reflecting the blue from the lights on his pupils. Target locked.
“11 AM? Cool, I’ll see you then!” He touched a screen and then locked it before sneaking it into his left pocket. When he was about to sit down, I jumped up, drawing at the counter with my manicured nails.
“You know what? Let’s go dance in front of them!” I pointed in the direction I intended to, just for the heck of it.
“Why? Do you have a girlfriend to worry about?” I stepped into him while sucking my lower lip innocently, extracting any traces of the champagne from it. Promptly, his gaze shifted to my lips. Until then, I didn’t notice the drastic height difference between the two of us. I looked at his peachy lips that were a few inches away from mine, pulling an alarm within. Even standing in such proximity to a man-angel like him that seemed to have just descended to Earth required a lot more courage than I expected.
I grazed my heel half a meter behind and braced myself, before closing my eyes and breathing deeply. “I think I’ll need another glass.”