One year later…
Alisha was sitting at her stylist’s salon getting primped for the big night. It was the Indian Television Awards ceremony and Neil was nominated in the best actor category. She had deliberately missed the awards last time as they had just started dating and Neil hadn’t made the announcement in press officially. But today, she had no choice. The stakes were high and this would be her first public appearance as Neil’s girlfriend. Rumor mills were abuzz that they had broken off, as they were hardly seen together.
The truth however, was entirely different. They both wanted to be cautious. In case their relationship didn’t work out, Alisha would have to face the brunt of the media which would make her life chaotic. Neil was used to it, but Alisha wasn’t. So they had kept their public appearances to the minimum. Their relationship wasn’t a secret as everyone knew that Neil was dating someone, but the identity of the woman was kept a secret.
And it was all going to change tonight.
Sighing, Alisha started biting her nails.
“Stop it Alisha, you’ll ruin my hard work.” Shruti, her stylist, reprimanded her like a small child.
“Oops, sorry!” Alisha said sheepishly. “I’m so nervous, you have no idea. I wasn’t even this scared for my final exams!” She exclaimed.
“It’s alright to be scared. You’ll get over it, trust me. But right now you sit still. Or else, you will end up having raccoon eyes. And we wouldn’t want that, right?” Shruti said with a smile.
Alisha looked at herself in the mirror and she admired the work of Shruti. She had styled her hair in soft curls that framed her face beautifully. She was putting her final touches on her make-up, after which she would be wearing the wine colored, off-shoulder floor length gown with sequins at the neckline that was designed by her talented cousin, Minnie. She was going to pair them with matching ear studs and a small pendant. She wanted it simple. Because that’s what she was. She wondered whether she would be able to keep up with the latest styles when spotted with Neil.
“What are you thinking so hard about?” Shruti asked.
Alisha shrugged and said, “I was just wondering how I will be able to look like this every time I’m out with Neil?”
Shruti started laughing, “You don’t have to really. Just be yourself. You are a natural beauty. And all this euphoria around your identity will settle in a few days when some other gossip comes out. So you have nothing to worry about.”
“I really hope so.” Alisha sighed.
“If you don’t mind, can I ask you something personal?” Shruti questioned.
Alisha looked at her reflection in the mirror and found Shruti smiling mischievously, “Yeah, shoot.”
“How is it living with ‘the Neil Basu’?”
Alisha started laughing at that. “I moved in with him just six months back and believe me it feels pretty normal. Except that we aren’t married yet.”
“What’s your daily routine like?” Shruti pressed further.
“Pretty much the same like it was before. Except that I wake up with the man I love by my side. A quick breakfast and we both are off to our respective jobs. And then we meet in the evenings. Sometimes, I work late and return the next day, sometimes he. We understand each other’s professions really well and I think that’s what matters in the long run. And when I’m on call for the night and if he’s home, he gets dinner for me and also makes breakfast before I’m home. I don’t go to his sets though, even on my off days, as I don’t want to get clicked. But, may be that would change after today.”
Shruti smiled at her in the mirror and said, “Wow. It sounds like a fairytale. Don’t you guys ever fight?”
Alisha laughed at that. “Fight? Don’t ask about how much we fight! You know, we never used to fight when we were just friends. And now! Oh my God! It’s like the day our relationship status changed from friends to lovers, the ‘fight’ genes in our systems got activated.”
“Seriously? You guys fight a lot?”
“Yeah. Over stupid things sometimes. You know, I have not spoken to him for three days at a stretch after our last fight.”
“Whoa! That’s surprising. I never thought that Neil would be like this. He gives such a poster boy image!”
“As if I knew how he was! We show our true colors only when we start living together. Earlier, we used to only meet once, maybe twice a week. So we would be all lovey-dovey. I got to know him better and vice versa only after we started living together.”
“Yes, that’s true.” Shruti said. “I’m just curious to know, what do you guys fight about?”
“You really want me to answer that?”
“Promise me, you will not tell this to anyone. Not even Minnie.” Alisha urged.
“Yes dear, promise.” Shruti rolled her eyes.
“I have a few bad habits like I tend to switch off the bell and my phone together when I want to rest. Most of our arguments revolve around that. Then I leave my towel anywhere in the house and I forget to switch off the TV after watching it.” Alisha said sheepishly.
“I didn’t assume that you would be so absent minded.”
“Yes, I blame Neil for that. And we end up arguing again.”
Alisha and Shruti both started laughing at that. Shruti then said, “But at the end of the day, you guys are back together. And that is what matters.”
“Yes, exactly. We all have our good days and bad days. But being able to forgive and forget is very important for a healthy relationship for both the partners. Life is too short to harbor all negative emotions. I have learnt it the hard way.” Alisha said.
“Okay, so I’m done now. I think you should wear your dress, jewelry and your pumps. Then you are all set to go.” Shruti clapped her hands as she said that. Alisha thought that she was more excited than her for this event.
After wearing her gown and jewelry, she stared at the sandals lying on the floor.
“Do I need to wear these three inch heels?” She complained.
“Yes, of course yes. And they are called ‘pumps’ sweetheart.”
Alisha looked at the nude colored sandals with dread and after saying a short prayer stepped into them. She started walking around to get the hang of it. She was pleased with them after some time.
“Cool… these are not so bad.” She told Shruti. Just then her phone rang. “My ride is here. Thanks Shruti.” She hugged her and left.
A black Audi was waiting for her with a uniformed chauffer. He opened the door and Alisha gasped in surprise when she saw that someone was already seated.
“Oh my God. You scared me Neil. I thought we were going to meet at the venue.”
She lifted her gown and carefully slid next to Neil.
“Yes, but I know how nervous you are. Thought we’ll make an entry together. And by the way, you look divine!”
Alisha blushed as he pecked her on her cheek.
Finally, they reached the venue and Neil held her hand in the car. “Don’t be nervous. Be confident. You look gorgeous. And you don’t need to answer anything. I will handle everyone. Okay?” He instructed her.
When she nodded in affirmation, he got down from the car and quickly rushed to her side. He held his hand for her and Alisha grabbed his hand and got out carefully. Adjusting her gown, she smiled at Neil, giving him a silent assurance that she would be fine.
They walked towards the red carpet together, where they were blinded by the flashing camera lights. They asked Neil about her, but he did not say anything. When he reached the last step, before entering the auditorium, he said, “Meet Alisha Merchant. My girlfriend.” Alisha gave a quick wave to everyone and they quickly entered the venue.
Everything was systematic after that. They were guided to their reserved seats. Neil and Alisha’s parents were also present, but they were seated somewhere behind.
The show started and Neil bagged the best actor award for a second time in a row. He gave a short speech thanking everyone. Neil and Alisha left a while later.
Exhausted by the events of the day, both of them were fast asleep.
The next morning, Neil surprised Alisha with an impromptu trip to Goa.
“Let’s revisit the place that changed our lives forever.” He had said. “And we’ll stay there for a few days, till the media storm has settled down a bit.”
“Of course, I can stay there as long as you like. It’s my favorite place in the world!” Alisha beamed with joy.
They checked in to a five star resort by the beach. Alisha was overwhelmed with this gesture of his. They did a few water sports together. They even did paragliding, as Alisha was desperate for some adrenaline rush. They visited the casinos by the jetty to try their luck.
On the third day, Neil organized a special beach side dinner for the two of them. He ordered Alisha’s favorite dishes and both of them relished their meal. Neil then requested the waiter to get their special dish.
“What is this special dish?” Alisha asked.
“You’ll see in some time.” Neil smirked.
“Oh please Neil, tell no, please?” Alisha gave him her dimpled smile and puppy dog eyes.
“Here it comes.” He gestured towards the waiter who was bringing something in a covered plate.
Alisha’s eyes twinkled with curiosity and she opened the cover. She found two pieces of paneer tikka.
“This is the special dish?” She quirked her brow, looking at Neil.
“Yes, this is a special paneer tikka. The recipe was given by Rachana bhabhi. Go on, try it. It’s really yum!”
Neil took a bite of his piece and so did Alisha. As soon as she bit the paneer, she felt something crunchy and spit it out. She was astonished at what she saw.
A multi colored ring just popped out of the paneer.
And when she raised her head to ask Neil, she found him kneeling by her side. She gasped looking at him. He simply smiled, took the ring from the table and said, “Will you marry me, Alisha?”
“Of course yes!” Alisha yelled in joy and Neil slid the ring on her finger.
“It’s beautiful!” She said wiping the tears from her eyes.
“It has all the precious stones in it. It’s unique. Just like you. Very precious and unique” Neil whispered.
Alisha hugged him, feeling very happy and content. They stayed in the embrace for some time. After that, they walked by the shore in silence, holding hands, soaking each other’s presence and breathing in the salty air.
How ironic it was! Alisha thought and so did Neil. They were breathing the salty air, but both of them were like a breath of fresh air in each other’s lives! They embarked on a new journey, to begin a new chapter of their life.
The End of a Beginning
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