“Sia!” Lalit couldn’t believe his eyes. But it was her.
“Arent you going to let me in?”
“Sorry.” He held the door wide open.
Sia’s pencil heels clicked ominously on the marble floor as she swished past him.
Lalit stared after her. Something wasn’t quite right. Why had Sia sought him out after so many years, he wondered. Frowning, he followed her in.
“It’s been a long time.” He waved her to a seat. “Twenty years right?”
“Nineteen years.” Her voice was crisp and curt.
“What would you like to have?” he asked automatically.
“Nothing, thanks. I haven’t come here to renew our acquaintance.”
“Acquaintance?” Lalit looked at her. “Was that what we were Sia – acquaintances?
“Call it what you will.” She shrugged coldly. “It doesn’t matter.”
Irritation overcame Lalit. “I wonder at your gall. You barge into my home after 19 years and you don’t even have the courtesy to be polite.” He looked her up and down opening assessingly. “If your sartorial splendor is any indication you have clearly gone up,” his lips curled, “way up on the social ladder. Didn’t you learn social norms on the way?”
“You mean hypocritical norms? I leave that to people like you.” She looked back at him unflinchingly.
“Look who’s talking!” He was quick to retort rather bitterly. “You were the one who strung me along and then dumped me for greener pastures.” He felt a perverse pleasure as she flushed.
Sia narrowed her eyes. “I didn’t marry money if that’s what you are trying to hint at.” The flush was of anger not shame. “I am a successful business enterprenuer if you please. Not that it’s any of your business,” she completed disdainfully.
“I don’t understand.” Lalit shook his head bewildered. “What is your problem? Why are you bitter? And why come here, that too after so many years? This is not a social call is it? So let’s get it over with shall we?”
He got up and went to the bar. He poured himself a shot of whiskey. As an afterthought, he turned to her, “Drink?”
The briefest of hesitations, before she nodded, “Vodka, if you have. With soda.”
Lalit was taken aback. Sia certainly had changed. The girl he had known was a giggly, chatterbox quite full of herself. She had also been very straitlaced and prudish. They had had their first lover’s tiff because she had smelt alcohol on his breath.
He handed her drink and raised his. “Cheers.”
She took a big gulp without responding or allowing him to clink his glass to her.
Irritation faded and now curiosity was almost killing him.
“So,” he said a bit facetiously, “what can I do for you?”
Sia stared into her drink which was almost half finished.
“Sia.” He prompted. “You know, I do have other things to do beside sit here and entertain you? In fact,” he looked at his watch, “I have a dinner date for which I must be leaving soon.”
“I know,” she said abruptly.
“You know?” Lalit was surprised. “How come? Have you been following me by any chance?” He settled back comfortably in his seat, “A bit late in the day to be jealous Sia.”
She threw him a withering glance. She put down her glass. “What I want from you,” she said carefully, “is to cancel your dinner date and promise never to see that girl again.”
Lalit was stunned. This was totally unexpected. What business was it of hers? What cheek. Anger bubbled up within him.
And why the hell should I do what you want me to do? You dump me at the altar, vanish without a word of explanation and now you coolly walk in and demand that I reschedule my life as per your wishes.” He hadnt raised his voice but the fury was very much evident in his tone and taut stance.
She sat silent, watchful.
Taking the moral high ground, Lalit continued to vent, ticking off one by one on his finger, “I am of age, I don’t have an irate wife in the background and my date is of age too.” He note of challenge in his voice. “Perhaps a bit young for me but what right have you to interfere in my personal business?”
“A bit young?” Finally the icy control snapped and her voice rose to a crescendo. “She is barely 18 years of age and you are 50! It’s…it’s disgusting.”
If looks could kill he would have been ash by now. But somehow it just served to just put his back up. “You mistake, I am barely 45, you are the one who turned 50 this year.” He laughed mirthlessly. “How could you forget your pet peeve? You were 5 years older to me.”
He got up to make another drink for himself and brought her one too. “Isnt it ironic, back then you refused me because you were older to me and now you pop up from nowhere just because the girl I am dating is younger than me? You amaze me Sia. What possessed you to believe that I would let you be dictated by you?”
For old times’ sake. It was clearly written on her face. But it was gone in a flash. She bared her teeth. “What I am wondering is how a decent guy could stoop so low as to trap an innocent…”
“So you do think I am decent? By the way, what is your interest in Riya? Is she your daughter by any chance?” He tapped his chin. “But Riya told me that she was an orphan. Poor thing I feel quite sorry for her, such a tragic, lonely childhood.” He looked at Sia. “The orphanage she was in,” he shook his head, “it’s criminal, some of the things that go on there.” He deliberately left it hanging.
Sia paled and her cheek bones stood out in sharp relief. Suddenly she looked old, very old and defeated.
Lalit felt a twinge of guilt but he stamped it down ruthlessly.
He drained his glass. “Amazing how our past comes back to haunt us isnt it? This is poetic justice. You refused to marry me on some flimsy ground and now fate has handed me your daughter on a platter.” He laughed. “It would serve you right if I let your hubby dear on to the secret,” he gloated. “Bet the poor guy is completely in the dark about this dirty little secret of yours.”
“You would lose the bet,” she said evenly. “I don’t have a husband.”
He looked at her blankly. “But you don’t deny Riya being your daughter,” he said slowly. His eyes hardened as anger flared within him. “You have such double standards. If you are so concerned about Riya why didn’t you adopt her? You could have saved her so much agony and trauma. Let me tell you Sia, I am thousand times a better option than that orphanage.”
“Leave her alone God dammit.” Sia shot to her feet.
“I will not.” He grabbed her by the shoulders, “Sia please stop this act at once. Where was all your maternal instincts when you dumped her in the orphanage like an unwanted piece of garbage? And be practical for God’s sake!” He thrust her away. “You cannot go around warning the whole world to stay away from your daughter can you?”
“Not the whole world! Just you.” The words were wrenched out of her.
Lalit froze. “Just me? Why me? Just because I had a crush on you, which you by the way rejected, very cruelly,” his lips thinned, “almost pushed me over the edge -,” he paused. “Is that why? You think I am doing this to take revenge on you?” he was shocked. “But…but I didn’t even know she was your daughter.” He looked her up and down. “Actually even I cant believe it of you – Sia and a child out of wedlock. And to think I always thought of you as pure as your namesake.” He sneered. “No doubt you rejected me, but I respected you Sia. What happened to your so called engraved-in-stone morals and principles Sia? Or were you just waiting for me to leave?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” She sat down again. He took the seat beside her.
“Come on Sia,” he said leaning forward, “no doubt I was a fool back then but I am old enough to know better now. I can put two and two together.”
“If you can put two and two together, you would be the first one to back off!” Her eyes were glittering fiercely and her fists were clenched tightly.
Lalit stood up. “I have heard enough. It’s time for me to get ready. Please.” He politely indicated the door.
But Sia didn’t budge from her seat. “Not unless you call Riya and cancel the date.”
“Oh God Sia,” groaned Lalit, “Let’s drop this shall we? Rest assured I have no romantic interest in the girl.” He confessed wearily. “It’s her birthday, she was upset, so I offered, that’s it nothing more.”
“It could become something more.” Sia was wooden. “She has a huge crush on you.”
Lalit dragged a hand through his hair. “Fine, I will cancel the dinner. On one condition.”
Sia looked at him with trepidation.
“You go and tell her that you are her mother.”
“No!” Sia’s voice echoed around the room.
Lalit stared in surprise. “But why? She is clearly lonely. You obviously care for her -”
“I don’t care for her.” Sia interrupted him. “I don’t care where she goes, what she does, so long as she stays away from you and your family.”
“Hey! Wait a minute. What the hell do you mean, ‘me and my family’? What the hell is wrong with you? I don’t like to boast but let me remind you if my family had not stood beside yours when your father had the accident, you guys would have been out on the streets. If Dad had not given you the job…”
“Shut up.” Sia burst out. “I don’t want to talk to you anymore. Just stay away from Riya and that is my last warning to you.”
Lalit crossed his arms. “Otherwise what will you do?”
Sia glared at him impotently.
Lalit jerked his head towards the door. “Do what you want to do. Nothing, I mean nothing, is stop me from going on that date with Riya. And thanks for telling me that she has a crush on me. This time I will have my way with her.” He said rather crudely.
Thwack! Sia’s palm cracked against his cheek. Lalit stared at her shocked.
“Nothing will stop you is it? Nothing?” She was panting hard. She glared at him through bloodshot eyes. “Not even if I tell you Riya is your sister? Half-sister to be precise.”
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