Read the below extract of book Arjun’s Jenny for free. Do leave your comments.
The area buzzed with the excitement of the fresh year. Non-stop chatter vibrated the walls. I overheard students gibbering about the latest movies, recent outings, and various accomplishments attained throughout the summer vacation. Disbelief and astonishment marred the faces as they heard the tales of the thrilling escapades. The exhilaration and enthusiasm in students electrified the air. It was a sight to behold, and I cherished every moment.
I strolled the canteen searching for my friends, coming across Ramjibhai’s counter. Students hovered around to get his world-famous Vada Pav, the cheapest, but the tastiest. His garlic paste was spicy enough to make eyes water with a runny nose, still we always insisted on extras. He bristled and begrudged at our demands, but always gave in at the end. His tough exterior had a kind heart. I had forgotten the count of the free plates he gave away when students forgot to bring money or couldn’t afford it. He waved off apologies, knowing very well that the money was saved for buying video games, gifts for girlfriends, or for arranging extravaganza dates.
I ordered myself a plate as I hadn’t eaten any breakfast. Mom had called, taking away all my morning time. I smiled at the conversation I had with her an hour back.
“I miss you. Why you wanted to come here, I don’t understand.” She complained.
“Mom, I was with you for the last two months. And this college offers the best arts program.”
“Hmm, but staying away from your mom, that’s a good option for you?”
“No, it’s not. But I have to do this. And I asked you to come and stay with me here. You would also have a chance to experience Mumbai’s lifestyle, travel in local trains, and eat the delicious and famous Pav Bhaji.”
“Let’s see if we can come for a few days. Only if your dad takes some time off from work. But he won’t.”
“Mom, I am getting late. And my battery is also low. Because we have been talking continuously from the last hour, I haven’t been able to charge my phone.”
“Yes, blame everything on your poor mom. We are the source of all your troubles. If Somesh wouldn’t have come here, then you wouldn’t have got this wild idea.”
“Chill, mom, one year has already passed. Now only two years left. But I am preparing you, from now only. I would like to go for further studies here and also get some valuable experience before coming home.”
“Huh, okay. I cry for you, but that doesn’t change anything for you kids nowadays.”
“Beta, I just miss you. We two are left alone here. You and Somesh, both in Mumbai, we feel all alone.”
“I understand, but what do you want me to do?”
“Nothing, you take care. And call me daily.”
“Never break our trust, Jen baby. Bye.”
Mom never thought I would go somewhere without her, but Bhai being here, I didn’t feel alone. He was my big brother who would always spoil me rotten. Ambling ahead while eating the spicy Indian burger, I thought about my two days camping trip. Staying in a tent, hearing roars of wild animals at night, and enduring below zero degrees with Maggi and a hot cup of coffee were few snippets of my excursion. Being pampered for the rest of my vacation at home had lasting effects on my body, and the blame was to the oil and ghee led meals that mom daily forced down my throat.
I got late as I had to dig into my old clothes for jeans with a larger waistline as the current ones won’t fit. My mind started drawing up a diet plan but, the packed oily snacks and sweets from home–courtesy from my mother wavered my determination. This was our ritual. Whenever I visited, I came back with at least two bags of food. I rechecked my purse to confirm the Tupperware box filled with different varieties of snacks for my gals. They greedily awaited their share.
I readjusted the strap of my heavy bag, growing impatient to share my stories and meet them after such a long break. It was rare for me to take on adventure trips. Generally, my vacations were always relaxing at beaches or hill stations, enjoying pleasant weather with unlimited food. It was a penance, finding them in this overcrowded mess. Our college was famous for having one of the spacious canteens all over Mumbai, but at present, it seemed insignificant. Like us, everyone had planned to meet early, not leaving a single table empty. All the hundred tables were occupied, voices mixing and creating chaos. I couldn’t even call them as my phone sat in my purse, dead. I waved, noticing a few of my classmates. Sara and her group of girls were sitting at the corner table. I marched towards them, optimistic, but stopped at sight in front of me.
Sara was busy smearing multiple coats of blood-red lipstick. It sickened to even watch. Was she going to finish it all? I narrowed my eyes in concentration but mentally kicked myself a second later for caring about this insanity.
“Hey Sara, how was your break?” I tried small talk. She paused, saving the stick to its untimely death. She should thank me, having something left for tomorrow. As being fair-skinned, red looked striking and flashy on her. A bold choice, but she wasn’t afraid. She looked like a sleek model. With her five-eight height and silky locks, she didn’t have to try hard. Yet her face was unrecognizable. A thick patch of concealer along with a pink blush, eyeliner, and red lipstick covered her face, taking away her natural beauty. In a way, I admired her need for perfection as it took a dedicated amount of time to maintain a flawless look.
“Ah, see who has given us their precious time today?” She taunted. Why was she showing an attitude? I couldn’t remember ever crossing paths with her. We only interacted during the competition. Being part of the same team, we shared the first price. Sara’s sole contribution was being part of the winning squad. She can roll in hell with her attitude. I wasn’t interested, anyway. I just thought she might have seen my friends and help me know their whereabouts.
“Did you see Claire or Priti?” I asked, strictly business. I patted myself for not getting intimidated, achieving a new milestone. Her friends were silent, enjoying the show. I had a few positive interactions with them when Sara wasn’t around. But in her presence, they lost their identity, following her like flocks.
Tapping her fingers on the table, she showed her red-clad long nails, pointed and perfect. The stark difference between us amazed me. I never cared about my looks, only ever had a compact, a present from Claire. She had gifted a M.A.C. powder last birthday, hoping I tried, but it still occupied my purse, unused and in pristine condition. I had merely removed the packing to appease and get her off my back. My well-shaped eyebrows were my only achievement right now. My friends booked appointments with a parlor every month, so I could look in their words, presentable.
“No, I haven’t seen them. Do you want to sit with us?” Everyone stared, stunned. Sara, who hated me for no valid reason, saw me with disdain, was inviting me to join them. Superb. The manipulative sly.
“Thanks but no. The lecture will start shortly.” I politely declined.
“Come on, the year has just started. Bunk.” She pouted. Had she applied an outer line? Her lips were actually not so full. Oh God, why do I care? I dismissed the invitation and turned. There was a fuss, jumbled words flowed everywhere, difficult to understand. What was everybody so thrilled about? I ignored them and returned to my current turmoil.
I walked a full circle but couldn’t find them. I cursed, checking the time, and rushed out. I couldn’t believe I had wasted all the free time searching for my friends. Punctuality was the mantra of this college. Professors made sure we learned the value of it by reprimanding us before everyone for tardiness and marking us absent. I strode at full speed towards the first class, ignoring the notice board, a part of my daily duty. Claire didn’t care enough to check the notice board or anything related to studies. Priti and I both managed it. She gathered notes from professors or students, and I kept them up to date about any recent activities or notices.
I usually walked slow, admiring the enormous campus. Surrounded by trees at various corners, the area maintained its natural look. We sat under the trees during examinations. Studying in the open but under the shadows of the towering trees was heaven. The college recently bought more land, dividing the campus into two parts, one part was the old architecture of red brick buildings. Sturdy. The recent construction had a slick look of concrete material. I passed a vast playground, filled with students practicing. Our college took part in many inter-college sports competitions, providing rigorous training to selected candidates. I looked over my surroundings, still astounded to be part of this college. It was an honor, and I was proud of getting accepted. My friends back home ranted on the phone for missing the fun. They felt jealous of seeing my photos and posts on Facebook. Life in Mumbai had its charm. The beaches, nightlife, and demanding working-life, this city had it all.
I turned right towards the art section but stopped when I heard someone shouting my name. I spun to find my best friends bent, trying to breathe. Where were they? Were they waiting for me in the canteen? I should have found them. I wasted so long searching.
“Where were you two?” I asked, sprinting towards them.
“We were running behind you. You don’t even have headphones in your ears. Still, you didn’t hear us. I was screeching.” Claire snapped.
“I… I guess I didn’t hear. I checked every corner but couldn’t find you.” I whispered, staring at my shoes. I was a nervous wreck when someone raised their voice. Mom forced me to drama class year’s back, hoping it will help to speak with ease. But I rebelled and stopped attending, my only victory.
“Jen, sorry. I didn’t mean to snap at you. She got caught by a professor, and we couldn’t avoid him.” Priti showed me the notes she had to compile for the professor.
“He gave me his work. If he couldn’t manage, he should have the decency to distribute it. But no, he assigned me with everything. That lazy lad.” She ranted with disdain.
“Don’t worry, I will help. We can work on this after college today.” I enjoyed reading, and Priti had always been supportive. I met her at the induction session, a day which I could never forget. I could still replay it in my head as if it was yesterday. Not the first one to approach, I stood nervously at a side while other students were introducing themselves and already making groups. I felt crushed and broken by standing alone without friends. Being shy had its drawbacks, and I was paying a heavy price for it, but later, Priti came along with Claire. She smiled, and I instantly felt at ease. Since then, we have been best friends.
“Oh, darling, you are the best. Crap, we are getting late. Let’s move.” Priti took my hand, dragging me.
“Wait, the classroom is this way.” I pointed and continued, “Did they change our building?” I asked, surprised. We had pleaded for an upgrade. The building allotted to the second year’s art section was ancient and rusty. They assigned the new constructions with high-end technology to the postgraduate curriculum. It had air-conditioning and whiteboards. Here, we had old fans working like politicians, no work, only talk. Also, our hands and clothes, regularly covered with chalk dust particles due to writing on a blackboard. Once during maintenance, we got the chance to attend sessions for a few days in modern classrooms. It was bliss, sitting in cold air, the latest style cushioned chairs, and using marker pens. We marched to the Principal’s office, demanding they give arts as much importance as other streams. Quickly, the demand changed to pleading and later proceeding to beg. But nothing worked. They ushered us back, disappointed.
“That dream will never come true. Forget it.” Claire piped in.
“Why is she dragging me in the opposite direction?” I asked, confused.
“We are not attending the lecture. Didn’t you hear the buzz? Everyone is talking about it.” I overheard the students nattering about something but couldn’t catch on the words. I assumed they were excited to meet after a long break. I should have tried harder, but my focus was on searching for my friends. An utter failure.
“I met Sara, but she didn’t say much.” I grimaced, recollecting her red lipstick.
“Sara is a bitch. We are attending a seminar on business planning.” She said in her best bookish tone as if she every day attended such events. We were art students, nowhere connected with commerce. Also, Claire loathed seminars, saw them as inadequate and useless. Once when I forcefully took her, she whined every second to shut up only when I promised her a dinner treat.
“Why? You hate them.” I frowned. I looked at Priti for clarity, but she just shook her head.
“Because a hottie billionaire is conducting it. There are posters all around, his hard broody close-up face watching us, challenging us to come.” She extracted one from her bag. Only she could remove a poster from a wall and take it. She unfolded the parchment, and I felt a sudden jerk, an instant pull towards the man staring unabashedly. He was rude and scowling in the picture. Was he real? A creepy photo on walls. Was he trying to intimidate everyone? Well, it was working. The college must have somehow pushed him for this. The longer I stared, an invisible rope pulled me to him. Why was I attracted? Yes, he looked handsome. His face passed all the checks for a bad guy. But an unfamiliar sensation crept inside, and the desire to touch him intensified. I held my hands to myself, not to appear foolish.
“See, he has hooked you in his trance.” Claire grinned. I pulled my eyes off him to glance at her. She was right. There was something in his eyes that lured me towards him. Was it longing? What did a billionaire crave? Terrified but transfixed, I resumed gawking. If in a photo, he was so grim, angry, perfect, and unbreakable, I was dying to see him in person.
“I hope we can get front row seats. I want to have a closer look.” She drooled, her eyes dreamy and excited as we rushed towards the auditorium.
“Closer view, of what, the projector or his angry face? It will be a dull session.” I whined, avoiding the tingling sensation in my stomach.
“We have a pact, remember? Next three years, we do everything together. Bunk lectures, night outs, hopping pubs, all together.” She responded cheerily.
“Jen baby, Arjun Rajput is leading the seminar, and we have to attend. I have read all the magazines and newspaper articles which are already very less. He never gives interviews. No one has got a word out of him, and the reporters sometimes just write and gossip about him. Building everything from scratch, he is one of the youngest billionaires of our country, also the hottest and most eligible bachelor. Never seen with any woman, the paper says, he doesn’t have time for this nonsense, or maybe he is gay.” Priti stated the facts. I rolled my eyes. Now that I wasn’t gaping at the picture like a maniac, I deliberated rationally. He will not come personally, choose to send a representative, and I will miss the chance to see him. A sudden uneasy feeling invaded. Loss and despair overwhelmed me as if my life would cease to exist if I missed the golden opportunity of his presence.
He will be there. He has to.
“How did he get the time? How did our college make him sign?” I tried to sound impassive, not wanting to look desperate.
“Don’t know, don’t care. Now walk fast.” We ran the entire way. The auditorium was on the other end. Among us, many students were marching and whispering in hushed tones. I heard a few snippets of their conversation–‘Once he sees me, he will lose his stiff attitude and fall for me’, ‘they will select my project,’ ‘sponsorship is in my hands.’ Sponsorship? What’s that about?
I smiled at the euphoria he had created. Everyone was talking, some smiling, some looked dazed, while others laughed at the private jokes cracked at his expense. But I was quiet. I had seen my share of drool-worthy guys, having grown up with Bhai’s friends without losing my shit. They didn’t attract me. It was a different story that they called me their baby sister, a greeting I secretly hated. Still, they were handsome and charming, as called by my school friends who would go insane seeing them. They joked around me, trying to make me comfortable. But Arjun seemed to be in a different league. He was… intense and somehow forbidden for us, the humans.
My eyes bulged out as I met a queue of almost a hundred students. We hadn’t even reached the curve where the auditorium was located. The line stretched, extending to the other lane and crowding everywhere. Great, now we will have to wait under the sun. The heat was unbearable. But as I saw and overheard my surroundings, I heard his name on repeat mode, along with the shy and flirtatious smile from the girls, and excited, hopeful expressions on the boys. The burning sun above didn’t kill the spirits of anyone gathered here. The excitement for a topic like business and eco was surprising as it was boring and yawn-worthy. Everyone was here to see Arjun Rajput, interact with him, getting the best they can from him. My T-shirt was sticking to my body, the result of my previous excursion. I searched for any unoccupied area under the trees, but the lane was packed, especially the corners, students cramped under the shadows of the trees.
“Shit, the line is so long, we will never find seats.” Claire cried.
“Wait, are they checking the IDs?” Priti pointed towards the entrance. The guy who was scanning the IDs seemed familiar. But I couldn’t recall.
“Jen, he is the guy who has a crush on you. The entire last year, he has been stalking you.” Claire gushed, excitement shining in her eyes, her mind popping crazy ideas. As evil, as she was, I was convinced they won’t be appropriate. She had a devil mind, but we adored her as she bought vivacity in our small group.
“Oh, yes, I remember.” They kept teasing me. He never came forward, content with staring from an adjacent table. We had a fixed place at the canteen, and this guy sat nearby and stared. Mostly, he was alone, glancing a few times while working on some papers. I had forced out a promise from Claire to not create a scene. She was a thunder, always ready to strike, and I feared the repercussions.
“Go speak to him. We need to know why he is checking the IDs. We will hold your place here.” Claire pushed me towards him, ever impatient.
“Absolutely not, I am not starting the conversation. Let this session fly to hell.” I hissed, stomping my feet for effect. It’s okay. I will miss seeing him in person. Not a big deal.
“Jen, please. Don’t you want to see Arjun? He consistently has security tagging along, no one can get near him. He is never coming back. Move, he is going to answer you. He likes you. Take advantage of that.” She quipped. I stared, her pleading eyes were as fake as the very reason she wanted to attend the session. Her wheat-colored skin shined in the sunlight while her wild curly hair had a life of their own. She had sharp features, and her confident personality did wonders for her. The thick liner made her eyes attractive, but the nude gloss gave her a decent look. I sighed and said the next words, which I would regret forever. Priti also threw an encouraging smile as she was also excited to attend the seminar. I would get marked absent on my first day because of Arjun Rajput, but I somehow didn’t feel guilty about it. Damn, the attraction had its own life and forced us to do things that we never imagined in our wildest dreams or even worst nightmares.
“The guy, whose name is also a mystery to us,” I uttered, trotting towards him. No point of debating when I know Claire invariably wins. She always blackmailed me, aware of my non-arguing personality. A year back, I couldn’t imagine talking to a guy, starting a conversation. My friends had grown on me, making me a better person. Forcing me, helping me, fighting for me. The list was endless.
“Hi,” I mumbled as I reached the entry gate where he was sitting. He didn’t look up, busy with his work. Unquestionably, I had spoken far too low for him to hear me. Clearing my throat, I was about to speak louder, but stopped as he looked up, hearing the garbled voice.
“Hi,” I repeated, smiling a little while I bit my lip. My nervous habit to curb my anxiety never escaped.
“Hey,” he smiled back but avoided eye contact. Was he also anxious? His black eyes moved around while his hair fell on his face. He ran his fingers and tucked them behind his ears. He wore a modest white tee with blue jeans having holes all over. Most of the time, he was working, but if not, I had seen him playing football. I was sure he was trying to get on the team.
“What are you checking? We want to attend the seminar. It will help with planning for the future and…” I babbled, getting stuck at the end. I was so not used to this.
“But you are not a business major, right?” he asked, gesturing to someone to enter.
“No, still in the second year,” I whispered, knowing we had lost the chance.
“Oh, right, I forgot. This seminar is only for third years and students doing masters with a major in business economics.” He stated dutifully.
“Oh, my friends and I wanted to attend.” I pressed. He looked over and saw Claire waving frantically. Sighing, he gave a timid one back. I saw the longing in his eyes. Oh my God, he liked Claire and not me. She being so crass and loud, he never got the guts to talk to her. But his eyes softened at the sight of her, and I knew our entrance was a sure-thing now.
“I can try to get you three inside. I assume you are best friends.” He spoke while staring at Claire, who was oblivious and chatting with a guy behind her.
“Great, thanks. Yes, we are.” I bit my lip before continuing, “Claire wanted good seats.” I said, hoping for the magic to run again. I felt horrible for using him.
“Yes, sure. We have set aside the first three rows for the participants. You can take that. Why don’t you call your friends, so I can let you inside? Please do this quietly. I don’t want anyone to create chaos. I could lose my job.” He said, apprehension clear on his face.
“Um, sure.” I turned, feeling guilty and awkward for getting the seats that someone else deserved. I didn’t even know his name. Had I ever been more selfish? I contemplated going back to ask his name, but a loud thud stopped me. We all looked at the source of the ear-splitting noise. The auditorium door was shut too vehemently. Seconds later, a voice reverberated the surroundings, someone yelling on the phone.
He undeniably matched with the image Claire showed me. Arjun Rajput. I recited his full name. I stared, unable to unglue my eyes from him. He was tall, about six-two, and lean with broad shoulders. He had worn a white shirt, perfectly fitted, exposing his well-toned muscular arms with black trousers. His face was fierce, carrying a no-nonsense attitude, a leader whose command was ultimate. I assumed he always got his way. Life never said no to him. I desired to unravel the emotions behind his stony orbs. But he was busy shouting down some poor soul, not caring for terrifying us.
“Follow my orders, or you are fired. Understood?” He barked, finishing the conversation without waiting for a reply. Suddenly realizing he was in a public place, he glanced around the waiting crowd. His gaze moved lazily, captivating everyone. The complete silence in the atmosphere was frightening, compared to the chaos minutes before. I wished to move and join my friends, but my legs felt paralyzed. My eyes waited, impatient for its turn, following his every move. His hands were casually tucked in his pockets like he owned the place.
His irises were brown, big, and round. An electric shock passed through me when his eyes met mine. Was he getting soft? His cold eyes eased but stared straight into mine. Quickly replaced by hardness, but I undoubtedly saw the surprise in his eyes. His icy glare held mine. Was he angry at me? My body went still; eyes widened at his aloofness. I was trembling all over. Was I terrified? No, it was something different. My cheeks felt hot, a foreign sensation spreading, causing my knees to wobble. I grab hold of a pillar in time, saving myself from stumbling, but I still stared.
It was eons before his eyes moved, breaking the connection. I felt empty. Why did he look away? I wanted to cry at his rejection. Taking deep breaths, I looked down as if the floor held all my answers. But as I glanced back, his eyes were on me again, watching me. My heart skipped a beat, a silent scream left my lungs. He gestured, shocking me. Was he calling me? He nodded, answering my thoughts. He turned, walking back, not waiting to check if I followed. I turned to look at my friends but met their shocked faces. Priti ran her hands through her long hair while she gave me strength. Her large eyes popped out as she imagined my plight. I half-smiled because I had absolutely no idea what else to do.
I heard muffled voices as I entered the auditorium, under the watchful eyes of a hulky man but couldn’t find anyone. He was guarding the door and scrutinizing everyone with his razor sharp eyes. Peeking around, I found him sitting at the far end. A makeshift office comprising a small table with two chairs was his den right now. He was engrossed, typing profusely. His head was bent in concentration, maybe trying to solve the puzzle called life. I smiled, feeling happy and content watching him from afar with no hindrance. The sounds rose, coaxing me forward. Preparations were going backstage. As my eyes wandered, I saw the stage was bare except for a podium and a lone chair. I leaned, hoping to hear the banter.
“The stage should be empty. Boss walks around while speaking.” Boss? Arjun was unquestionably the boss, but why did he call him that. I could see him from sideways. He had worn a cream color shirt and had neatly trimmed hair. His round face was cute, along with his sweet south Indian accent. He was patient, speaking with respect but still making his point. Customarily, they used first names in the corporate world. Bhai addressed his colleagues and supervisors by name while talking on the phone. If not name, then sir should do. Boss sounded so intimidating like everyone, and everything was beneath him.
“But it’s assigned for internal staff and Principal Madam,” Saurbhajitji argued. He was an operations manager, and here from nineteen years. He wouldn’t let go without a fight.
“Please make alternative arrangements. Boss doesn’t like people hovering on the stage.” The cutie deserves an employee of the year award. Arjun wasn’t here, but still, he addressed him with respect.
I turned, no longer interested, and walked towards Arjun. I stopped about five feet away, afraid to move further.
“Are you planning to come anytime soon?” He spoke while continuing his work. My heart stopped for a second, hearing his voice. How did he know I was standing nearby? He hadn’t once glanced up. I took a deep breath and mentally pushed myself ahead.
“Hi,” I greeted, my voice barely a whisper.
“Did everyone hear me outside?” He asked without looking up.
“I guess.” I murmured, biting my lip. It was obvious. Why did he even ask such a silly question? He was yelling in front of the eager crowd who was dying to meet him. Suddenly he looked up, frowning.
Was he angry again? He had lost control, banging the door in aggression. I gawked. He might be callous, but his face had a boyish charm, the innocence of a child but, his personality was cold and unsympathetic towards others from what I gathered outside. My hands yearned to touch his face. I closed my palms in a fist to control my not so decent thoughts. I will do nothing foolish.
“Guess? Either it is, or it isn’t. I hate people not taking a stand.”
Is it? Unmistakably, I didn’t say it aloud, scared out of my wits. He stopped and cursed, seeing my horrified face. He took a heavy breath before continuing, but I heard nothing. His reaction not only stunned me but also charmed me. His face, full lips, mesmerized me. Even his habit of moving his hands while talking enthralled me. I stared, feeling dazed.
Oh, God, what was happening? I had just met him, a complete stranger, but the attraction was swelling and luring me in depths of this mysterious feeling. Maybe he could stop glaring. I might get my senses back.
“Excuse me, did you even hear a word?” His sharp voice brought me back to earth. I shook my head, unable to verbalize. He stood, offering me his full attention. We were standing too close. I wanted to step back, but my legs wouldn’t move. I had to look up. He was too tall for my five-two. I could hear his heartbeats, faint but melodious tune to my raging beats. His eyes were the darkest shade of brown, like bitter chocolates, and his jaw ticked in impatience. I was wasting his precious time and energy.
“Now, do I have your full attention?” I nodded to his stern voice, scared to hell.
“What are you doing after the session?” He asked, his tone clear and crisp.
“Um, I have lectures.” Why was he asking me about later? Did he know we were not allowed to attend his seminar? Was he going to report us? I bit my lip, waiting for him to continue.
“What time do you get free?” Why was he interested in knowing about my schedule? I wanted to argue, but his expression wasn’t so encouraging. Also, I was curious to understand why a business tycoon was interested in a college student’s day.
“By five-thirty, why?” I whispered.
“I will come to get you. If I can’t come, I will send a car.” Huh, get me for what?
“For what?” I asked aloud.
“For dinner today. What’s your name?”
Was he asking me out? I couldn’t believe it. Now, he was interested in knowing my name.
“Jenny, everyone calls me Jen,” I replied, obedience clear in my voice.
“Jenny, you have beautiful eyes. Cancel your plans for the evening. You are having dinner with me.” He moved closer, caressing my cheek. It was feather-touch, and over before I grasped what was happening. He turned, leaving me bewildered.
“But…” I tried to speak, but he had resumed his work. He wasn’t a man whom you disturbed. I walked out, feeling dazed. I wasn’t sure what had just happened. Did he ask me out? No, he didn’t. He ordered, and I didn’t even object. But I didn’t affirm, I could skip the last lecture and elope. He would never find me. But he will come the next day, fuming with rage. And I will be the meal of his anger. Eating with a stranger, not so sensible. All I know, he may be a serial killer, locking me down in an underground cellar. I laughed, my errant thoughts running wild, a result of reading too many mystery thrillers.
My friends were waiting for me outside. They ran as soon as they saw me.
“Jen, what happened? Why did he call you? You saw him earlier. He was so angry but sexy as hell.” Claire gibbered. Priti shushed her. They both looked up, expectant for an answer.
“Nothing happened. He wanted to know if he had spoken too loud. And then asked me if we could grab a bite. Nothing much happened.” I tried to avoid the topic and babbled, that nervous I felt right now.
“Hell yes, he was loud, and what… Grab a bite. What does that mean?” Claire pressed.
“That boy is calling, let’s go. Or else we will miss the seats.” I started walking, dodging Claire’s question. Her strong reactions scared me more than Arjun’s stony face.
“Oh, yes,” she ran towards the door, forgetting everything. I sighed in relief.
“Jen, I know you were brushing her off, but grab a bite? I am confused.” Priti urged.
“Priti, he asked me out. He is taking me for dinner.” I shared my anxiousness.
“What? That’s unbelievable.” She chirped, hugging me. But doubts and uncertainty crawled inside me.
“You seriously think it’s amazing? A few minutes ago, we saw him shouting at someone.” Now, not getting distracted by his icy glare, I felt apprehensive of spending time with him. I could deny, say no, but the thought of not seeing him made me uneasy. The silly, not so sensible girl inside me wanted to unravel him, talk to him, or maybe just listen to him. It was just a dinner, no big deal. But the fluttering in my belly said otherwise. The prospect of meeting him again ragged my breathing with trepidation.
“Jen, if you are not comfortable, don’t go. Never force yourself on a date.” Date? Was it a date? Even if it was, I wouldn’t understand the difference. Anticipation surged through me as I realized the crux of the matter. But no, it wasn’t. Why will Arjun Rajput take a mere college student on a date? Had every model and beauty-queen vanished? Priti didn’t share much about his personal life. All she rattled was his work and his cold, unfriendly demure. I stayed quiet, not wanting to sound needy.
“What, no, it’s not a date. It’s us having dinner, nothing else. A date involves other things, going for a movie or…” I stopped, accepting the truth, my first date.
“Dinner. It’s a date, Jenny. You are getting an unusually rare chance to know him at a personal level. You know, he doesn’t attend any parties and isn’t part of any social circle.” She gushed.
“Why?” Why was he always so aloof?
“No one knows, but the media says he is an overachiever, always working with a single-minded focus.” We sat in the front row, courtesy to the footballer. I glanced around. The auditorium crammed with passionate and boisterous students while I absorbed her words.
“Hmm,” I hummed, distracted, as a roar of claps greeted Arjun as he walked on the stage. He raised his hand, and silence fell. I could throw a pin, and it would gather attention. Everyone was terrified because of the earlier fiasco, yet the hall was filled with eager, innocent minds. It was a full house.
“Who has nominated themselves for the scholarship program?” No greeting, no placating the crowd, Arjun was in business mode. Hands shot up in the air. He looked over, his eyes meeting mine. He searched for my hands, but they were dutifully in my lap. He gave a slight nod, erupting an electric shock in my body.
“You are aware of the rules. I should get the project documentation by tomorrow. My employee–Rana, would come tomorrow to collect. Don’t waste my time by delivering incomplete material. If your research is not entirely complete, you will be disqualified.” He paused, walking around the stage. His eyes moved unhurriedly, locking everyone in his power.
“I will sponsor three business ideas, a chance to make it big. We will provide them with capital, manpower, and complete support. Is that clear?” He spoke calmly, but, as I looked around, every eye was focused, unwavering, and lured in his mega majestic persona. Oh, that’s why everybody was talking nonstop about sponsorship and promoting their projects. This was big, students getting a shot to start their own business right after graduation. No struggle, no hopping around for interviews. Wow, that’s incredible. I should have checked the notice board or online updates. Oh yes, now I could understand the vans standing in front of gate number two. We had three entrances, and I saw a commotion while I entered. But I was already late, so I didn’t linger to check when the college security was yelling to some random strangers to back off.
“Yes, boss,” everyone bellowed. I huffed in annoyance. Does he expect me to call him that? Boss, I chanted in my mind, a shy smile easing across my face. Chills ran down my back as I peered back towards the stage. His eyes were on mine, staring blatantly. His lips moved, but his browns were fixed on me. I looked away, breaking the contact, nervous with the new mysterious feeling.
The session progressed, but I didn’t hear a single word. Arjun also zoned me out as he spoke about business, trade, commerce, and factors related to it. My eyes moved around him as he walked, owning the place. Suddenly everyone started clapping and cheering, the sound deafening and echoing. The seminar already finished? But it started mere seconds before. I hurriedly checked the time. Oh shit, half past an hour had passed. Everyone stood, giving him a standing ovation. But Arjun didn’t even blink an eye and walked out. There was felicitation, a token of appreciation received by his representative.
So this was Arjun, straightforward, arrogant, proud, self-absorbed, and a man with zero empathy. I didn’t take risks. My life was always pre-planned, but today I will have dinner with an unknown person, and the thought didn’t scare me, not in a typical way. I feared my feelings towards that absurd and unrealistic craziness. The craving to touch him, to stare endlessly, was far too powerful.
“Jen, let’s go,” Priti shouted. I snapped out of my daydream, hearing her voice. The next lecture was announced as free, so everyone was moving towards the canteen. The atmosphere was jubilant. Everyone was talking about the seminar with eager eyes, walking out with big dreams, highly exhilarated. The guy who gave us entry stood in a corner viewing the crowd disbursing slowly. Asking Priti to wait, I waved, but couldn’t catch his attention. I walked towards him.
“Hi,” I called.
“Hey, hope you didn’t get bored in the seminar.” He grinned, knowing it wasn’t our stream.
“No, it was enlightening. Um, it may sound absurd, but I don’t even know your name.” I flushed, avoiding eye contact.
“Raj and no issues. We never spoke. I know yours because you participated in the cultural event. I handle the backstage work for these events.”
“Oh, yes, I saw you once. It was nice talking to you. Thanks again for helping.” His attention diverted somewhere else. I turned to find Claire having an animated conversation with some guy. I looked back and saw Raj’s glum face, the excitement of seconds before, gone downhill.
“You should speak to her.” I offered.
“I am scared. Not sure how she would react. We both know her reactions are strong.” He eventually turned towards me, a resigned look overshadowed his face.
“Hmm, I understand. But you will have to try. Take care. Bye.” I walked back towards my friends but felt awful for him.
“Claire, at least thank him for letting us attend the session.” I barked.
“Who,” she asked, always ignorant.
“Raj, who else,” I was frustrated with her lack of interest.
“Jen baby, who Raj?”
“The guy with whom you compelled me to speak. You were mistaken. He isn’t having a crush on me, it’s you.” I whispered.
“What! Are you serious? But he kept on looking at you, no wait, I was sitting diagonally, so maybe we thought he was staring at you, but his eyes were on me. We misunderstood. Wow, that’s news. Where is Priti? This is an emergency.”
“She is again stuck with Rohit Sir, poor her.” Claire laughed as I pointed to Priti, who was miserably listening as sir talked. I was sure he was giving her more details about the work he had assigned her.
“Oh shit, if we don’t move, we are not getting a table at the cafeteria. Let’s go.” We called Priti, who, in return, gave us a thankful desperate expression and walked out.
We sat at the corner table where a socket was available. I charged my phone while listening to the crowds discussing the seminar. This was one of the best events the college had organized. Claire, ever being a big mouth, shared about Raj’s crush on her. She and Priti started scheming plans. I was the silent listener who nodded a few times. Finally, Claire planned to speak to Raj in a few days.
“I hope you don’t mind. We teased you continuously about it.” She asked, unsure.
“No, you go ahead.” The way I felt for Arjun in a minute of our encounter, I didn’t for Raj in the whole last year. He was just an aid to my non-existent ego that someone liked me.