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Their discussion was interrupted by footsteps on the stairs, Zeest turned as Aariz emerged from the stairs. His black glance rested briefly on her, then shifted to the dinning table. Yet, all her senses were brought to full awareness.
“The storm has almost arrived.” He said, his voice worried and tensed.
Don’t worry, son.” Mrs. Zaidi told him. “Such storms are quite common here. I hope everything would be alright by the morning.”
“By the morning?” He raised his brows and asked aloud.
“Yes….. I’m not going to let you two drive in such a dangerous weather. It makes no sense at all to go out of this heavy rain and approaching storm. Besides, all roads will be blocked.”
Shaking his head with clear disappointment, he looked toward Zeest.
“Oh….” Mrs. Zaidi twisted my mouth into a semblance of embrassment. “I’m sorry son, we were so lost in our talk.”
“It’s okay.” He tried to smile.
“You and Zeest sit here, I’d be back in a few minutes.” Saying that, she turned and left for the kitchen.
Zeest tried to sit there, but this unbearable, killer silence was more disturbing than ever. She thought she should better go and help Mrs. Zaidi with dinner.
A few minutes later, Zeest returned and set the plates and cutlery on the table. Within seconds, the table had been set for three.
The dinner was delicious. It was freshly cooked Spinach Tarkari, pure Ghee Paraathas and fresh Milk Lassi. It was simple and nutritious.
“It’s been so long since I sat down to a pure Pakistani farm meal. I’ve forgotten how good it can taste.” Before he could stop himself, words automatically left his mouth.
“I can understand that. Food in Karachi is great, but farm meals have their own taste and flavor.” Mrs. Zaidi said, shifting the plate of salad in front of him.
“So, I am desperate to see your beautiful babies. Both of you are so beautiful and attractive. I’m sure your children would not be less.” Mrs. Zaidi said with amusement, her eyes going from Zeest to Aariz again and again.
Their glances clashed across the table, and they finished the meal in silence.
When it had been consumed, Aariz leaned back in his chair, streching with the contentment of a man whose stomach is full.
“The dinner was excellent, I haven’t ate such delicious meal in years. You are a great cook, Auntie.” Aariz said in an excited voice. It was a sincere compliment from him with no attempt at flattery.
“I didn’t cook, Zeest made it in such a short time.” Mrs. Zaidi said, smiling broadly at him. “I’m surprised, you still don’t recognize the taste of her hand?”
His mouth took some seconds to close after hearing her statement. However, his comment reached out to Zeest, stroking her senses like a caress. Her mind kept thinking of that old saying—The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.
“Water, I’m thirsty.” Suddenly, his desperate voice drew Zeest’s attention.
When she looked at him, she didn’t know whether to be embrassed or laugh at his condition. A thin stream of Milk Lassi was flowing from the corner of his mouth. She poured the water in the glass, and with a tissue to wipe his mouth, sha handed it over to him, barely managing to contain the smile that was playing with the corners of her mouth.
She then cleared the table and stacked the dishes in the sink.
“Men need attention, daughter.” Mrs. Zaidi told her sympathetically. The experienced woman had sensed the cold atmosphere between the newly wedded couple. “If you ignore your husband, he will definitely find some other woman.”
Zeest smiled painfully. “Will he? He already has someone in his heart.” She wanted to say but couldn’t.
“I think you two should better sleep now.” Mrs. Zaidi announced once they were back to the room where Aariz sat, yawning.
“After all, newly weds need more sleep than usual.” Mrs. Zaidi smiled naughtily, slightly tapping him on him shoulder. It was a gesture for him to follow her.
He swallowed but said nothing and just let her preced him toward the inner rooms.
Without further comment, Mrs. Ziaid motioned toward the doorway that was midway between the fireplace and the kitchen. It led to a hall. On the left was the master bedroom, and next was the bathroom.
“Everything is here.” Mrs. Zaidi told them. “But if you need anything else, don’t hesitate, just call me and I’d be here.” After a minute she was gone, closing the door behind her and leaving Aariz and Zeest facing each other.
With Mrs. Zaidi gone, Zeest was acutely aware of being alone with Aariz. The feeling was making her extremely uncomfortable. Although, this was not the first time that they were completely alone in the privacy of their room, but here in this smalll, distant place, with unfamiliar surroundings and strange atmosphere, without her parents-in-law around, it all seemed so different.
Aariz was thinking on the same lines as he looked around the old, silent bedroom where he was going to be alone with her for the whole night. He didn’t want to be alone with her. The whole idea of it was totally disquieting.
When the quietness had grown uncomfortable, she ventured. “There’s just one bed here. But don’t worry, I’ll sleep on the floor.
“My pleasure.” He smiled roughly and began to take his shoes off.
The storm that had been building all afternoon and evening broke during the beginning of the night. The temperature dropped like a rock, rain fell in torrents. With that, unexpectedly, the power supply went off, leaving complete darkness all around.
“Sh*t!” Aariz exclaimed in frustration, his hands still fumbling with the straps of his shoes. This was something totally new for him. Strange place, powerful noisy storm, dark black night with no light and above all, ZEEST!
There was bleak darkness everywhere; it was so intense that they couldn’t even see each other. Only their breaths made them realize that they were not very far from one another.
Suddenly, there was a strong spark of thunder, an ear busting blast and intense lightening. She came into his arms, accidentally. It all happened so fast that neither of them had any time to think. Somehow he managed to catch her. His arms closed about her, and his grip was firm as he pressed her tightly to his chest. Zeest’s eyes were wide with fright.
They were both breathing heavily and their faces were close, so very close. For a long moment they gazed, mesmerized, into each other’s eyes. Her eyes looked like twinkling stars in the dark. But then slowly, he withdrew his body from hers.
The instant he released her, Zeest moved a few steps away from him and slipped her feets into her brown leather pumps. Her heart was beating erratically and she was grateful to have something to do with her attention for even a brief moment, besides looking at the powerful, magnetic man who had just held her so intimately.
She told herself she should be relieved, she was relieved, she insisted to herself honestly.
But the whole truth was less simple. Disappointment vied with her relief. She felt almost overwhelmed by his appealing masculinity. Today, he wore neat brown slacks with a tan corduroy blazer that fit perfectly across his strong shoulders, and the scent of his after-shave cologne tugged powerfully at her senses. She had tingled everywhere their bodies had touched when he held her against him so tightly. Heat still coursed through her veins. Their eyes were beginning to get used to the darkness now.
“Are you blind?” He clenched his teeth. “If you can’t see me, stay out of my way.”
At a loss, she watched as his eyes narrowed. Seconds ago, she had been wrapped in his arms, and now he looked down at her as though she was his enemy.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Zaidi came in with a hurricane lamp and some candles, she looked at them both and then hung the lamp from a hook suspended from the ceiling. She placed the candles side-by-side along the wall. Bending, she lit them one by one. The dim glow emitting from the candles bathed the lonely room in an ideally romantic atmosphere.
“Why are you too acting so strange, are you alright?” She asked, sensing the uncomfortable silence in the room.
“Yes, everything’s fine.” They chorused, looking away from her.
With that, she shook her head and left the room after saying good night.
Without wasting another second, he took his shoes off and almost fell on the big bed. He did not sleep immediately, but lay there listening to the rain beating on the roof and trying to batter its way in through the windows, and the wind soughing through the tree tops in the nearby forest.
How beautiful this night was going to be if I was with Komal……He thought painfully. Exactly then, his gaze shifted to the corner of the room and he saw Zeest who was spreading a sheet on the floor.
She was going to sleep on the cold, hard floor. For a moment, he felt like it was not a right thing to do, let himself sleep on the soft, warm and comfortable bed when a woman was sleeping on the hard, rough floor.
But then, he jerked all the thoughts away, as his gaze grew inhospitable.
“Ohhh! I don’t care.” He told himself and turned himself away from her.
It was midnight when a slight, weird kind of sound broke his sleep. He opened his eyes, searching for what had disturbed his dreamless sleep. As he came to, he tried to focus on what might have awakened him.
Perhaps an extra blast from the storm still raging outside? Some falling limb in the forest? Then, as his eyes focused, he saw in the dim light that Zeest was sitting on far corner of the room, her face hidden into her knees, her arms around her head.
Was she crying? There were no sounds, but from her shaking figure, he could guess that very well.
It was a painful and touchy sight.
“Hey!” Words left his mouth automatically.
There was no response.
“Hey!!” He called again.
She raised her face from her knees and gave him a questioning look.
Despite the dim light, he could easily see the redness in her eyes from the lack of her sleep but mainly because of her intense crying.
She stirred slightly, but shook her head in negative. Any problem? Wow, he sure had a soft sympathetic heart.
“Why are you crying?”
She remained silent; instead, she began to wipe her face.
“Remembering your father?” He asked again, this time in a relatively gentle voice.
She nodded slowly.
Zeest’s chin lifted a rebellious inch, a tinge of red creeping across her cheekbones.
What was he going to do? Would he hit her, punish her for crying?”
“What?” She was confused. “It’s alright.”
“I told you I don’t hear ‘No’ in answer, Now come to bed.” He insisted.
She opened her mouth to object, but he spoke again she had a chance.
She knew futher arguing would be of no use. Slowly, she rose from her place.
“Sit here.” He curled himself and withdrew his feet, making a place for her on the bed.
Silently, she obeyed him.
“Now….could you please tell me if this crying is going to help you, hmm?” He asked, staring deeply into her eyes.
“Would you mind if I ask you to sleep soon so that we could leave this place as early as possible?”
She lowered her head in agreement, and was about to stand up when his hand gripped hers.
The touch was warm, electric and tingling. But this warm touch sent cold shivers along her body.
“You can sleep here, right here, on this bed.” He said in a strange voice. “With me.”
“But why?” As she asked, she could notice the slight trembling in her own voice.
“There’re insects on the floor. They might hurt you.” His own eyes betrayed him as he finished his sentence. “No need to get free with me. It’s only for your sake.”
Smiling sadly on the word ‘hurt’, she said, I’m already comfortable. It’s alright. Thanks anyway.”
“There’s a lot of space here. Both of us can sleep very easily.” He gave her a soft look.
“Surely there’s a lot of space but is there is any space for me in our heart as well?” She wanted to ask but didn’t find the courage.
He then shifted himself to the other side of the bed, leaving enough space for her. Slowly, trying to occupy as less space as she could, she placed herself on the bed, keeping her body at a visible distant from his.
“Good night.” He spoke for one last time and then turned his back to her.
With a blank mind, she closed her eyes in search and hope of some sleep and rest.
Hours later, Aariz awakened with a delicious fragrant filling his nose, and a romantic blackness covering his eyes.
Zeest had fallen asleep in his arms. With his arms around her, she was sleeping so peacefully, like a child.
How on earth had that happened! He could feel the pounding of her heart, thudding as loudly as his own.
He lightly rubbed his eyes and twisted his head to look down at her sleeping face, peaceful and beautiful. It was such a breath-taking sight that almost involuntarily, he couldn’t take his eyes off her. The softness of her skin, the pores on her nose and under her eyes, on her cheeks, the fullness of her lips, the odd way that the hair of her eyebrows changed color, as they got longer.
Her long, dark hair was a bit rumpled from sleep, yet still sleek and shiny. Totally against his will, he reached out and brushed a stray lock of hair from her face. Then, in their own accord, his fingers softly began to touch her hair. He felt a little shock pass through his body as his fingers found her forehead and began to mirror his exploration.
Her outfit had crept above her waist revealing a small but very luscious, path of peach and milk colored skin and as she lay still, Aariz fixed his eyes on the golden skin glowing. It was just like milk, or gold, so shiny and smooth.
Her face was so close to his that he could feel her damp breath on his face and he could feel her body against his own, her hair tickling his arm and chest. He could hear her every breath. He could hear the change in her breathing. It was like their breaths were touching….almost touching. So close, that they could smell the sweetness of each other’s breath, coming in rasps of passion, sharing the intimate warmth washing over their faces.
He shuddered at the thought. An then Komal’s smiling face came from nowhere.
No….no. He warned himself. I’m not supposed to have these kinds of feeling for a woman I don’t love.
Coming fully awake, he slowly disengaged himself from the sleeping form next to him and got out of the bed.
A hum filled Zeest’s ears as she began to arouse from her deep-sleep. She was dimly aware of the delicious warmth which permeated her entire body, forming tiny beads of perspiration on her forehead.
At first, she did not know what it was that roused her from her slumber, she rolled over to her back and lifted her tousled head up from the pillow. She was cold and shivering, she realized the sheets were off her. Her dark hair was slick against the sides of her face, wet from perspiration. It took her another thirty seconds to realize where she was. The other side of the bed was empty and Aariz was nowhere in sight.
The light from the window was faint, the sun hadn’t risen yet, and the room felt cool from the open blinds, which calmly swept back and forth in the morning air.
“You there?” She whispered.
“Yeah.” Came the hard reply. She turned her face and saw he was standing near the window with his back on her.
“Did I wake you?” He added
“No, you didn’t.” Came the short reply.
“Looks like the rain had stopped.” Aariz said, as he took a few more moments to consider his comment.
Zeest turned and looked out of the window, confirming that the intense storm had indeed burned itself out and the sky had begun to clear.
The day was dawned sunny and what might even pass for warm. The temperature hovered around thirty. A gentle breeze caressed the landscape, and Zeest found feel of sunshine on her face a welcome change.
Mrs. Zaidi, who had been upstairs cleaning most of the morning, magically appeared with tea and warm Parathaas. They finished their breakfast in silence and then got up to leave. It was a long journey, after all. Thanking Mrs. Zaidi for her kind hospitality, Zeest followed her husband to his car. Mrs. Zaidi walked them as far as the front door and watched them climb into their car and drive away.
During the next hundred or so miles, they didn’t speak at all. Each thinking about last night and wondering if it could affect their lives in a new way.