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“Snig, when I called in the evening, aunty told me you were busy. What’s keeping you busy on a Sunday?” Romita asked on the phone.

Snigdha was lying on her bed, fiddling with her iPod. “Sameer has got a promotion. He is the head of his department now. I’ve been planning a celebration for him, with his mother. I went grocery shopping with her today.”

Romita replied, sounding very happy, “That’s such good news. I must congratulate Sameer for both his achievements.”

Snigdha asked, perplexed, “Both his achievements?”

Romita gave a short laugh. “Well, one for his promotion and the other for finally winning you over.”

Snigdha said crossly, “I’m not some commodity to be won, okay? I’m just helping his mother celebrate his success. That’s all. Don’t try to see too much into it.”

Romita said sarcastically, “Really Snig, you are unbelievably arrogant. Do you honestly think you are not affected by him? Why the hell don’t you accept that you are ready to move ahead in life with somebody else?”

Snigdha said meekly, “I’ve told you a million times I can’t trust anybody again. Everyone seems good at first. That doesn’t translate into a lifetime of stability. Dirt starts coming out with time, you know. That’s how life works. I don’t want to get emotional again and cry for another four years, and make Sameer cry as well.”

Romita sounded a bit guarded as she said, “But babes, you already have emotions for Sameer. You can’t stop it anymore. It’s coming and I don’t think you can back out at this moment. The more you try to control, the more anguished you will be. And besides, I really think Sameer is a stable guy. Everyone has some issues, but I don’t think stability will be an issue with him.”

Snigdha could hear a beeping on her mobile. “Romy, somebody else is calling. It might be Sameer’s mom. I’ll call you later.”

Romita said, “See, again you are avoiding me. Fine, it’s your life, do what you please.” She disconnected the phone, offended.

In a few seconds, Rimsha’s call came through. She reminded Snigdha to be there at the Sinha house on time the next day. Snigdha assured her she would reach on time. In spite of everything she was doing, she was apprehensive of facing Sameer. That night she had pecked him on a stupid impulse. Sameer had not reacted to it. They had not talked to each other since then. Now that she was going to meet him the next day, she was feeling jittery. Of course, Sameer must have realised it was an impulsive move. Or was he under the impression that she had fallen for him? Either way, she knew it would be awkward to face him now. She was unnecessarily troubling Sameer and sending him mixed signals. Why did she have to get his hopes up when she had no plans to move ahead? The guilty feeling had not left her since that night. The attempt to help Rimsha in arranging tomorrow’s get together was her way of redeeming her own guilt. She had lost control once and seen the consequences. She wasn’t going down that path again. At least, she had not told Romita about her stupidity. She shuddered to think what Romita would make of that.

The other thing that Snigdha was dreading was the cooking she was supposed to do the next day. Rimsha had requested her to cook Sameer’s favourite dishes for him, and like a fool, she had agreed. When Rimsha had proposed the idea, it had felt wonderful. She had wanted to do anything that she could to make Sameer happy. But later when she thought it through, she realised that it was a terrible idea. She was only going to shoot Sameer’s hopes up further. She was scared of hurting Sameer and herself. She thought of the time when Abir had cooked for her. She knew how happy that had made her. Was Sameer going to be that happy?

The thought of Sameer’s endearing smile lit up her face. Tomorrow was going to be special for Sameer. She was going to try her best to contribute. She was not going to mess anything up for him. She resolved not to think of unpleasant things for now. Suddenly she remembered the warmth of his arms around her. She would do her best for him. He deserved that much from her. In fact, he deserved all the happiness in the world.

The next morning was cloudy. Snigdha wanted to reach Sameer’s house before it started raining. She quickly got ready for the day. Her parents would be joining them later. She was really excited about their plan by now, the doubts having taken a back seat. Sameer didn’t know about this get together. This was the first time when she was doing something for Sameer. This thought cheered her up. She knew things could get awkward between her and Sameer at the slightest provocation, but right then she was really looking forward to the whole thing.

Rimsha welcomed her very warmly when she arrived. Mrinal was out of town and Sameer had gone to office. Snigdha had taken the day off from work. She was going to bake a chocolate cake for Sameer and make Srestha’s special chicken kebabs. Rimsha led her to the store room where she had hidden all the streamers. Both of them brought out the streamers and Snigdha proceeded to drape those streamers over the doorway in each room, while Rimsha went to the kitchen to prep for the dishes they would be cooking that day. When Snigdha was done decorating, she went out to buy bouquets to put around the house.

When she returned, Rimsha was getting in the car to visit Dakshineshwar temple. Snigdha said concernedly, “Mom, it’s still cloudy. It can start raining any time now. Come back fast.”

Rimsha replied, “I will. Go inside and complete the decorations. I’ll try to return early and start cooking.” She gave Snigdha a quick hug and got in the car.

Snigdha finished the decorations within the next hour, and by the end of it, the house smelled of roses and jasmine and marigolds. Now, she had to get to her cooking duties. She didn’t want to start without Rimsha’s supervision, but Rimsha was taking more time than was necessary to come back. She called Rimsha and got to know that there was a very long queue in the temple. She would get very late. Snigdha had no other choice but to start the cooking. She was not a bad cook, but she definitely lacked the expertise that Srestha and Rimsha had. Snigdha apprehensively set to mixing the flour and cocoa powder for the cake. She knew Sameer would never eat much of the cake because of his stubbornness to starve himself with “healthy” food. But she still wanted the cake to be good, wanted Sameer to be happy.

Snigdha was setting the microwave when she heard a car stop outside the house. She felt relieved to think that Rimsha had arrived before she could get started on the kebabs. It had started raining very heavily by then.

But it was not Rimsha. It was Sameer. He was glad but extremely surprised to see Snigdha in the kitchen, wearing his mother’s apron. He asked incredulously, “What are you doing, Mini?”

Snigdha was flabbergasted. Their surprise was completely ruined now. She asked in a disappointed voice, “Why did you return so early from office?”

Sameer explained, “I just had to make some presentations today. They are done and I’m free for the day. So, what’s up with you? Where’s mom?”

“Oh well, your mom and I are celebrating your promotion with some of your friends this evening. She has gone to Dakshineshwar to pray for you, and here I am, baking a cake. We wanted to surprise you but you ruined our plans,” she groaned.

Sameer said with a lopsided smile, “Believe me, the surprise is not destroyed at all. I still can’t believe you are here, doing all this for me. Did you decorate the house yourself? It’s looking lovely.”

Snigdha gave him a small smile and nodded. “Are you going to be home for the rest of the day?”

Sameer asked quietly, “Will you be uncomfortable to stay alone with me?”

Snigdha’s eyes rounded in surprise at the question. This thought had not crossed her mind till then. But now she became acutely aware of Sameer’s presence. She didn’t want to show her discomfort though. “Umm no. Come on, go and freshen up.”

Sameer replied with a huge grin, “Yes, Ma’am, as you wish.”

Snigdha couldn’t stop herself from grinning back in response. His smile did strange things to her heartbeats. She tried to focus on her cooking while Sameer headed upstairs. But it was very difficult. Her pulse was suddenly racing. She was glad to see Sameer after so many days.

Sameer came hopping down the stairs soon and joined Snigdha in the kitchen. He leaned against the kitchen island, picked up an apple from the fruit basket, and started juggling it. He watched Snigdha put cashews and raisins on the baked cake. “Can I taste it?”

Snigdha looked up at him, “Yeah.” She was suddenly very nervous. What if Sameer didn’t like the cake?

Sameer smiled as he saw a frown appear on her face. He scooped up a bit of the cake with a spoon and put it in his mouth. Snigdha watched him eat with mounting tension. Sameer was enjoying the anxious look on her face. At last, he said with relish, “So this is something else my girl is good at. Great! It’s heavenly, Mini.”

Snigdha noticed that Sameer had called her ‘my girl’. Was she really so now? It should have bothered her. But as she saw his smiling face, she couldn’t make herself get offended at his choice of words. Instead, she was glad that he liked the cake. She smiled back in relief.

“Won’t you taste it?” He extended a spoonful of cake towards her.

“Later. I’ve to finish making the kebabs too. Your mom should have returned by now. Call her and see where she is. What if she gets stuck in some waterlogged street?”

Sameer nodded in assent and called his mother up. She was still stuck in the temple. The queue was taking forever that day. She would need another hour to return.

Sameer mused, looking fondly at Snigdha, “I had planned to go fishing with some of my school pals today. But this is so much better.”

Snigdha went about her work. “I didn’t know you like to fish. It needs patience, isn’t it?”

Sameer replied enthusiastically, “That it does. I find it peaceful though. But honestly, I prefer being with you.” He grinned indulgently at her. Sameer suddenly straightened himself purposefully. “Let’s go to the terrace. The garden there looks so beautiful when it rains. Come and see.” He again had that infectious enthusiasm in his voice that Snigdha found so irresistible.

Snigdha tried to reason with him, “But I haven’t finished cooking and…”

Sameer pulled her towards himself abruptly before she could complete her sentence. He put his arms around her to untie her apron. He pulled the apron off her before saying authoritatively, “Later, okay? Come with me now.”

The sudden proximity to Sameer set her heart racing. Sameer felt her reaction, but didn’t say anything. He was floating on cloud nine. He just wanted to take his Mini with him to his cloud nine.

He dragged her to the terrace; she had never been on the terrace before. There was a small garden filled with pink roses, tulips, and zinnias. It was pouring very heavily. The intoxicating smell of wet earth was filling the air and it was turning Snigdha heady. She exclaimed softly, “This is beautiful!” They were standing at the edge of the gazebo. She extended her hands to feel the raindrops on her skin. It had been so long since she had stood enjoying the rain.

Sameer breathed near her ear, “I’m so glad you are here with me.” His soft breath tickled her skin.

Suddenly she felt a strong urge to step out in the rain. She acted on her impulse, grabbed Sameer’s wrist, and pulled him out with her in the rain. Sameer was startled. “Hey what…” He fell silent midsentence when Snigdha started spinning around with her arms outstretched, welcoming the rain, feeling every drop of water falling on her face. Snigdha felt every pore in her skin fill with an inexplicable and untraceable happiness. Sameer stood there watching her, amused, transfixed.

They smiled at each other. Sameer ran his fingers slowly along her cheeks. Snigdha didn’t flinch from his touch this time, instead she nuzzled her face in his palm. His touch was comforting her, rejuvenating her. Sameer had brought a new lease of life for her and she knew at that moment that she wanted to embrace that newness. She realised that Sameer’s presence calmed her and soothed her. They stood in the rain, looking into each other’s eyes. Snigdha felt her thoughts scatter as she stared in his dreamy eyes; she could sink in them and never resurface.

Sameer said, “You’ll get sick if you stand in the rain any longer. Let’s go inside.”

Snigdha nodded in assent. Together they went in, holding hands. Sameer said while going down the stairs, “You need to change. Do you have any extra clothes?”

Snigdha shook her head.

Sameer thought for a while. “Mom keeps her wardrobe locked and the keys are always with her. Still, I’ll check whether she has left it behind today.” He went into his parents’ room, came out a little later, and said hesitantly, “Sorry, I think you will have to make do with my clothes for now. Call up your mom and tell her to bring your clothes for the evening.”

Snigdha was shivering in her wet clothes by now. She had to get into dry clothes, otherwise she knew she would fall sick. Sameer led her to his room. He quickly picked up dry clothes for himself and went out of the room, leaving her alone there.

Snigdha stood in front of his open wardrobe, looking at his clothes. What was happening today? Everything was feeling so unreal. Sameer felt so unreal. She had never expected to be happy in Abir’s absence. She had not believed someone could love her again. She had not thought she was capable of reciprocating to anyone else’s feelings anymore. But whatever she felt in the rain with Sameer was new to her and exhilarating. Sameer always made her feel good about herself, about life. She gently touched a shirt hanging inside his wardrobe—she wanted this happiness to last.

Sameer was humming a tune under his breath and walking about in the kitchen when she came downstairs. Sameer looked over at her as she stood in the doorway awkwardly, wearing his yellow t-shirt and white shorts. His t-shirt was too big on her lean body. He stared fascinated at her and Snigdha blushed furiously at his intense scrutiny. She kept tugging at the hem of the t-shirt as she walked towards him. She asked self-consciously, “What are you doing here?”

Sameer said with a smile, “I’ve kept your chicken pieces in the microwave.”

Snigdha replied, taken aback, “Thanks.” She bent sideways to look at the microwave, past him.

Sameer whispered, “You look good in my clothes.”

Snigdha kept looking at her feet, not knowing how to respond. Sameer bent towards her to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her earlobe, feeling her erratic heartbeat. He couldn’t make himself move away from her. Snigdha was biting her lips nervously. She too couldn’t move away from him. He cupped her face and as Snigdha stared into his eyes, she could feel his love and desire for her. Their breathing became ragged as they came tantalisingly close.

Rimsha suddenly called out from the hall, “Mini, I’m back. Where are you?” None of them had heard a car stop at the front yard.

Snigdha hastily drew back and Sameer dropped his hands. Snigdha ran outside looking once at his dazed face.

Rimsha was very disappointed that their surprise didn’t work out according to their plans. But she felt immensely happy to see Sameer and Snigdha coming closer.

The rest of the day passed in a blur. Snigdha got very busy in helping Rimsha. Sameer hung around in the kitchen with them, tasting the dishes as they got cooked. Snigdha couldn’t stop herself from stealing occasional glances at Sameer. His eyes were twinkling so brightly. The light in his eyes was lighting her up from within.

The Basus and the rest of the guests arrived in the evening, and they all had a wonderful time together. When Snigdha was leaving that night with her parents, she felt very sad. She didn’t want to go away from Sameer. She could see her emotions reflected on his face that night and they gave each other a silent smile as Snigdha got into the car.

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