Perplexed by this sudden and new development, Neil looked at Alisha with a questioning gaze. At that moment, her mom chose to speak.
“Oh my! What a handsome young man you are! I’m sorry, did I miss your name?” She asked.
“No Adhira, he’s just entered.” Avinash said.
“Alisha, give him a proper welcome, at least take the flowers from his hand.” Adhira said.
Alisha was amused seeing her mother go gaga over a man half her age. She took the flowers from Neil’s hand and placed them in a vase in the kitchen. She came out and stood behind the sofa where her parents were sitting. Neil was sitting right opposite them.
“So how was your trip?” Adhira asked enthusiastically.
“Let the poor child talk, Adhira.” Avinash interrupted. “You are not even giving him a chance to say his name.”
Neil was clueless about everything that was happening around him. But he still said, “I’m Neil Basu.”
“Ah! Nice name. It has a nice ring to it no? Alisha Basu. Hmm… sounds good.” Adhira said to Avinash.
Both Neil’s and Alisha’s mouths were wide open in shock. Here, Alisha had to still clear the misunderstanding and there her marriage was being planned.
“Umm… Excuse me uncle? What is going on?” Neil finally said.
“Neil, Alisha was just telling us that her boyfriend was out of town and would visit us as soon as he would be back. And look, you are already here.”
Finally realizing what was going on, Neil smiled smugly, looked at Alisha and said, “Oh, is it?”
Alisha was nodding her head frantically and also joined her hands and mouthed ‘please go’.
Wondering why Neil was continuously staring at Alisha, Avinash cleared his throat and looked behind to where Alisha was standing. Immediately, Alisha dropped her joined hands and started to look down and pretended to be interested in the designs of the sofa.
But, Neil had plans of his own.
“Yes uncle, I’m really lucky to have your daughter in my life. She’s amazing.” He played along.
“And I must say Aunty,” he looked at Alisha’s mom, “You both look so similar. For a second I thought that you are Alisha’s older sister.”
Alisha was grinding her teeth at him and her eyes had widened in shock when he said that to her mom.
Adhira just laughed, “Oh Neil, you are so charming!”
“Come, let’s have dessert and raise a toast as well.” Avinash led Neil to the dining table.
Neil was happily enjoying the strawberry ice cream while Alisha was seething in frustration. 'Why did he even have to agree to it?' she thought.
Avinash and Adhira raised an ice cream toast, “To Neil, Alisha’s boyfriend.” Neil laughed at that and Alisha scowled.
“So what do you do son?” Avinash asked.
“I’m an actor.”
“Whoa! Alisha has scored a jack pot!” Adhira said.
Alisha cleared her throat and said, “Mom, please.”
At the same time Neil chuckled, “It’s alright Alisha.”
The dessert was done and Avinash said, “I would have offered you drinks as well, but we have just come today and we want to call it a night.”
“Yes, and we’ll give some privacy to you two love birds too.” Adhira chipped in.
As they got up to retire for the night, Neil said, “It was really nice meeting you both, but I’m going to head home as well. Really tired after a hectic shoot. And I stay just next door, so I’m sure we’ll catch up often.” He winked at Alisha as he said that.
“Oh. That’s lovely. Neighbor cum boyfriend.” Adhira said. “I’m sure we will know about your love life in details in the coming days. Good night dear.” She hugged him.
Avinash gave a quick hug to Neil as well. Alisha walked him till the door, but sensing her parents’ presence behind her she said through grinded teeth, “I’m going to punch you. You just wait.”
Neil sucked in a breath and replied, “I’ve missed you too sweetheart. See you tomorrow.”
Alisha batted her eyelashes and said in an overly sweet voice, “Yes sweetheart, I’ll definitely see you tomorrow.”
Neil chuckled at Alisha’s antics and entered his house.
Alisha sighed in relief and closed the door. As soon as she turned around, her parents were staring at her in awe.
“What?” she said.
“Nothing. We are just happy for you. Finally, you have moved on. I really thought that you had given up on finding love after the Rohan debacle.” Her mom said.
“Oh mom…” Alisha hugged her mom and whispered, “Please don’t ever bring up Rohan in our conversation.”
“Anything for you child.” Her mom said.
They said their good nights and retired to their rooms.
Alisha sighed in exasperation at the mess she had created or rather the mess that Neil had created.
She spent a restless night and was up and ready by 6 am. She had a mission to accomplish. To catch hold of Neil before he went. So she scribbled a note saying, 'have to report to work early, it’s an emergency.' And left it on the dining table.
As soon as she was out of the house, she started banging at Neil’s door and also rang the doorbell multiple times. With each passing second, her impatience grew by leaps and bounds.
Finally Neil opened the door. He was yawning and rubbing his eyes and was wearing nothing except a loose track pant that hung dangerously low on his hips. Alisha pushed him aside and barged in.
“Put on something, for God’s sake.” She yelled.
“Well, good morning to you too.”
“Good morning? Hell of a morning!”
Neil laughed at that and sat down on the bean bag that lay in the living room.
“Why did you do all of that?” Alisha asked.
“You woke me up from sleep just to ask me this?”
“Yes, I had to, before you run away for work.” Alisha scratched her forehead and started pacing around.
“Care to tell me what’s going on?” Neil asked.
Alisha looked at his well-defined muscles and said, “Please, will you put a t-shirt on?”
“Because you are distracting me!” she yelled.
Neil was amused but still raised his hands up in surrender and went to his room. He returned a minute later wearing his trademark hooded tee.
Alisha sighed and sat down on the sofa. She explained about everything that had happened.
Neil burst out laughing at that.
“What? You find this funny?”
“Of course it’s funny. What will you tell them when they ask you to get married to your fake boyfriend?”
“I’ll tell them we broke up.”
“Then, they will again remove the list of the potential grooms.”
“I’ll see about that later. Right now, it’s buying me time.”
“Ok, as you say. But what’s wrong if I become your fake boyfriend?”
“Nothing’s wrong. In fact I had considered you too for this role, but as you were extremely busy, I found a replacement. And with you entering the picture, it’s all going to be a mess!”
“Who cares about all of that? Your parents are meeting your boyfriend for the first time. So, whoever it is, I don’t think it should matter, right?”
Alisha thought about it for a few minutes and said, “I guess you are right. So brace yourself to be my boyfriend for a month.”
“Yes, sweetheart, I’m in.” Neil said while giving her a sideways hug.
Alisha smiled at that gesture and asked, “What about how we met and all that stuff?”
“Nothing, we tell them the truth.”
“Ok then, see you later.”
“Wait Alisha. Not so fast. We have been good friends since the last two months, right? And I have hardly heard you talking about your parents. What is it that you are not telling me?
“Um… how about you make me some breakfast first? I’m starving.”
“I’ll help you too.”
Together they made some sandwiches and tea. They were working synchronously, and Alisha could imagine how it would be, if this were real. They appeared like a proper couple, domesticated and all. She sighed and chose to think about something else rather than dreaming the impossible. She liked being around him so much that sometimes it scared her. She knew that she had to maintain her distance, otherwise she would be in deep trouble. He just considered her as his good friend and here, she was building castles in the air.
And added to her misery, was the fake drama that would be lasting for a month. How would she be able to separate her real vs. ‘fake’ feelings for him? She wondered.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Neil questioned.
“Um… nothing. I was thinking about work,” she lied.
“So, what’s the deal with your parents?”
“Neil, the thing is, they were never around when I needed them the most. In my childhood, there was always a nanny or I was in a day care or with my maasi. When I grew up, I detached myself from them and started immersing myself in books. Whether they were home or no did not bother me anymore. And then when I decided to enter medical field, they were so angry that they left the country!
They did not come for my graduation too. When all my friends had someone to go to, to share their happiness, I was alone. And now, they want to interfere in my life for such an important decision? I cannot let them do that. No.”
Neil listened intently to Alisha and then said, “May be you should share your feelings with them.”
“You think I did not try? I did try, Neil, multiple times, but I always got 'I’m in a meeting now, or call you later.' Whenever I tried to tell them how much I miss them, they always changed the topic. So, I gave up.” Alisha was on the verge of tears.
“Alright, calm down now.”
Alisha helped him clean the dishes and then left to go the hospital. “Bye girl friend.” Neil said.
Alisha chuckled at that and said, “Yeah, boyfriend. See you later.”
A few days passed like that. Neil visited Alisha and her parents and also took her out on fake dates. He also bonded with her parents and they talked about anything and everything. Alisha was very happy seeing them bonding, but also felt guilty over the web of lies that she had spun.
All the while, Alisha also had a nagging feeling at the back of her mind that she was forgetting something important. But she just couldn’t remember.
One evening, Neil was at Alisha’s place for dinner. They had ordered pizza and were relishing it and talking about Neil’s work.
“It must be so much fun right? Visiting so many places and displaying a wide range of emotions on screen?” Adhira asked enthusiastically.
“Yes, it is fun, but also terribly exhausting. Getting into another character is really a task.”
“By the way, we never asked you, how did you guys started dating?” Avinash asked.
Neil shrugged and said, “We had initially met in Goa. But had lost touch. We met again when I came here to stay.”
“Oh yes. Goa. Alisha had mentioned about that trip, right?” Avinash said looking at Alisha.
Alisha nodded in affirmation as her mouth was full with a bite of cheesy pizza.
Just then the doorbell rang.
Avinash and Alisha simultaneously got up to open the door.
As soon as the door opened, Alisha saw Tarun with a bouquet of flowers.
He offered his hand for a shake to her father and said, “Hello uncle, I’m Dr. Tarun Mehra, Alisha’s boyfriend.”
And Alisha gasped.