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As Snigdha walked into the rehearsal hall the next evening, she saw Daniel in a deep conversation with Abir. Abir seemed very focused on their discussion. She went closer to see what they were discussing. So long she had been afraid that discussing their past with Abir would make things worse between them. But that didn’t seem to be the case. Abir smiled warmly at her when she went and stood beside him. She also felt comfortable with him. In fact, the tension between them seemed to have dissipated. But, at the same time, she could see the sadness and resignation in Abir’s eyes. There was really nothing she could do about that. She knew only time could heal Abir.

Soon they took the dance floor. The practice session went as smoothly as possible. By then Snigdha was pretty confident about the aerial act. The excitement for the dance festival was at an all-time high. Each of the instructors was trying to pitch in with their suggestions and the evening flew by as Snigdha put her complete concentration on her rehearsal—working on her floor work, pointwork, and on the lifts. Snigdha was relieved that Abir wasn’t showing any signs of stress. She knew their routine would look beautiful if they could properly pull off the execution. She was determined to do justice to Daniel’s hard work and to her own talent. She had got minor injuries and she was sore because of the gruelling rehearsal, but she was not going to be deterred.

At the end of the rehearsal, when she was preparing to leave, Abir came up to her. She gave him a small smile as he came and stood beside her, looking as exhausted as she felt. He smiled back before saying, “Snigdha, I’m really sorry about last night. I had no intention to ruin your evening.”

Snigdha replied warmly, “Don’t say that. It was really good that we discussed everything. We needed it.”

Abir looked a bit sceptical as he asked, “Are you honestly not angry with me?”

Snigdha said sincerely, “No. How can I ever be angry with you? You can discuss anything with me, anytime. I just want something from you.”

Abir asked curiously, “What?”

Snigdha said getting serious, “I want you to move forward in your life. I want to see you happy. You have to make some real efforts. Sameer and I’ll always be your best friends, and we don’t want you to stagnate.”

Abir’s jaws hardened for a few seconds. He closed his eyes as if steeling himself. At last he nodded. “I promise to try. If this is what will make you happy, then so be it.”

Snigdha said, “It’s not about my happiness, Abir. But yes, your happiness is important for my happiness. You definitely got that part right.”

Daniel called Abir just then. Both of them looked around at Daniel who was busy checking out the aerial hoop in one corner of the room. Abir said, “Gotta go. Dan can be too enthusiastic at times.” He hovered there uncertainly before adding a bit hesitantly, “Snigdha, can I hug you once?” But on seeing the discomfort on her face, he quickly added, “Hey, it’s okay. I understand if you don’t want to.”

Snigdha’s face relaxed at his words and she closed the distance between them to give him a bear hug. She said as they held on to each other, “I really missed you. Life was just not the same without you. Don’t vanish again without any notice, okay?”

Abir’s voice sounded slightly constricted as he said, “I know I’ve made you miserable. But I’ll try to change that now. I’ll do everything to make things better.”

“Thank you.” Snigdha was going to make Abir keep this promise.

Suddenly Rachit shouted from behind, “Hey, Sameer! Where are you going, dude?”

Snigdha immediately let go of Abir and whirled around to see Sameer striding out of the room. She got a view of his stormy expression before he went out of her vision. His calm and serene face was Snigdha’s solace. He always looked so big and strong. But that one glance was enough for her to see how crushed he looked—his usual confidence replaced by shock and disbelief. She ran after him, forgetting to take her bag with her. How could she ruin everything just when things were beginning to get settled?

“Sameer, stop! Sameer!” she called after him at the top of her voice. But he didn’t stop. Snigdha saw him get on his bike and ride out into the crowded street.

Abir came out after her. He silently handed Snigdha her bag. At this point, she was past noticing her actions. All she knew was that she had to talk to Sameer. When Abir offered to take her to Sameer, she refused. She couldn’t go to meet Sameer with Abir in tow.

She walked forward in a daze, got in a cab, and told the driver to take her to the Sinha house.

When she reached the Sinha house, she found Mrinal and Rimsha getting into their car. They were going out on a dinner meeting. When she approached them nervously, Rimsha informed her that Sameer had returned a bit earlier and he was looking tensed about something. Rimsha was glad to see Snigdha. She wanted Snigdha to talk to Sameer and see what was wrong with him. Rimsha gave her a quick hug before they got in the car and left.

Snigdha entered the house not knowing what she was going to say to Sameer. She felt her heart sink with each step she took towards his room upstairs.

Sameer’s room was unlocked and she entered without knocking. Sameer was pacing the room agitatedly. He rounded on her when his eyes fell on her. “Mini, do I honestly deserve this from you? Why the hell didn’t you tell me that you are in love with Abir? Now I understand—you were always in love with him. Always. Now I understand your fears, your apprehensions about me, everything. So, what exactly did you come here for? Obviously, you didn’t think I was supposed to know anything about this. You have been lying to me. I saw you and Abir together, heard what you told him. What’s left now?”

Snigdha stood in the doorway, dumbfounded. Sameer’s words were giving her a whiplash. This was a million times worse than she could have imagined. “Sameer, please listen to me. You have got it all wrong.”

Sameer strode towards her in a fury. “What have I got wrong? I did suspect this whenever I saw you both together. But I didn’t believe my own suspicions. I was sure you wouldn’t lie to me.”

“What did you suspect?” Snigdha asked in a trembling voice.

“That you were the girl in Abir’s life. So, what do you want me to do now?” suddenly Sameer’s voice calmed down. But his eyes became more frantic.

The aloofness that spread over his face chilled Snigdha to the bones. “I want you to listen to me,” Snigdha pleaded.

Sameer gave a slight sneer. “You don’t need to tell me anything. I worked it all out myself. You and Abir want to get back together. So, I won’t interfere in your life again.” He backed away from her and walked towards the desk. He pulled open a drawer and began rummaging inside for something.

Snigdha asked, not knowing what else to say, “What are you doing?” Her scalp was prickling in fear and her whole body was heating up with anxiety. Whatever Sameer was doing and saying didn’t bode well at all. Where was he going with this?

Sameer replied in a detached way, “Trying to make your life easier. I’m moving to Australia. I’ve decided to accept the offer to join our Australian branch in a managerial post. I’ve already talked to my boss. I’m going to move out as fast as possible. As of now, I need to find my passport and book my tickets. I’ll talk to my parents. They won’t bother you.”

Snigdha said in a determined way, “Fine, if you want to move to Australia, I’ll go there with you.”

Sameer laughed at this—it was a completely mirthless laugh. “Abir and you don’t need to keep sacrificing for others. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry. You two just talk to your parents. I’m not sure I have it in me to convince your parents about Abir.”

Snigdha said, getting exasperated, “Sameer, stop this nonsense. I agree I didn’t tell you about Abir. I simply couldn’t bring it up. I wasn’t comfortable discussing it. I didn’t think it was important. Then Abir came back and I was scared of hurting you. But Abir and I are just friends now. Whatever you saw at the practice was a friendly gesture. This is the truth. You have to accept it, and please stop talking about leaving me. I’m sorry for lying and hiding things. But I thought it was just that—my past. I want to share my present, my future with you. I never thought my past would get dragged into my future. I promise I won’t hide anything from you again.” She breathed in deeply for a few seconds before saying quietly, “I didn’t want you to know about my father’s depravity.”

Sameer came towards her then. “Abir still has feelings for you. You still have feelings for him. Where do I fit in the picture? I don’t want you to regret marrying me.” He sneered. “Abir had said once that your dad is the most important thing for you. I shouldn’t forget that your parents were the only reason you said yes to me.”

Snigdha said fiercely, “How the hell can you say that? I love you. Why don’t you get that? My parents have got nothing to do with the fact that I love you. I don’t care about anybody else’s feelings except yours. My feelings for Abir are completely friendly. I’m in love with you. If you don’t want me to perform with Abir, just tell me. I won’t do it.”

Sameer said hastily, “I don’t want to ruin your career.”

Snigdha shot back, enraged, “No, you just want to ruin my life by going away. What’s the difference between you and Abir? He left me the moment his ego was hurt, now you are doing the same, without even bothering to clear matters with me. I understand you are upset, but breaking off our relation and running out of the country is too much of an overreaction. Well, Mr Sinha, I’m not letting you go that easily.” Her patience was snapping. She was on edge, she could run into Sameer’s arms to get comforted by him or she could turn her back on him. Sameer was the person who brought her back from the dead, and now he was acting like an insecure, jealous man. She knew Sameer could be volatile at times, but this was too extreme. It was hard for her to believe that Sameer could leave her for what he thought was good for her. She couldn’t believe a stable person like Sameer could get deluded so easily.

Sameer said indignantly, “Hey! I just thought you wanted to be with Abir. That’s why I decided to leave—to let you two be together. I want you to be happy. I was not being selfish, I swear.”

Snigdha’s voice got choked as she said accusingly, “Why do all of you think you can take decisions about my life without even talking to me? My father, you, Abir—nobody is different. I need some respect. Nobody understands that.” She turned around and left the room at top speed, not letting Sameer catch up with her.

Once she got in a cab, she called up Daniel. “Dan, can I perform at the dance festival alone?”

Daniel asked, getting shocked, “Why? Are you out of your mind?”

Snigdha said, getting irritated, “Yes, I am. Do you trust me enough to let me go and represent our institute alone? Yes or no?”

Daniel said, getting more confused by the minute, “Yes, I do. You are a live-wire. None of us have any doubts about your capabilities. But what’s wrong all of a sudden?”

Snigdha said in a satisfied tone, “Thank you, Dan. This means a lot. I’ll talk to you later. Can I come now and start rehearsing for my act? Don’t worry, I’ll clear things with Abir. He’ll understand.”

Daniel said, sounding harassed, “Fine. But this will mean a whole lot of work at the last minute. There’s just a week and a half left for the show to begin. We have to start all over again. This can be a total nightmare. Just come over as fast as you can. Let’s see what we can do.”

Snigdha thanked Daniel and disconnected the phone.

She had found a peaceful sanctuary in Sameer. Whenever she looked at him, she was reassured that somewhere in her life everything was good and happy. But today Sameer had made a grave mistake of hurting her dignity, and she was not going to take it meekly.

She was completely fed up with the superior attitude that her men had. She wanted happiness and she was going to get it her way. No one was going to dictate her life anymore. She wouldn’t let anything complicate her life again.

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