Chapter One


A Few Years Earlier

Rays of light swept off the darkness in the room as Jay opened the door. Dropping his bag on the floor aside, he jumped on the bed. His legs hung at the edge of the bed as he spread his arms wide, yawning before curling up into a ball. Back from a long weekend trip, he barely had any energy left. Closing his eyes, he tried to relax as the events of the trip played inside his head. Being on a tight schedule had kept him devoid of sleep for the most part.

Even though the idea of a nice warm shower was tempting, all he desired was a sound sleep and not getting up until noon the next day. On the journey back home, his flight was delayed by a couple of hours. It was on the verge of being cancelled due to a light rainstorm. But luckily, the weather improved and he was back home, comfortably lying on the bed. 

Jay was back from an event in Bangalore. It was a hackathon followed by an exhibition event which aimed at displaying the best talent from all over the country. He was looking forward to this event for quite awhile now. There were only a couple of months left for his graduation when the duo had participated in a fest where one of the organisers of the bangalore hackathon noticed their project. Impressed with the idea the duo had been presenting during their college festival, Jay and his friend, Hitesh Vyas were invited to compete in this event. The competition was fierce as it had attracted the best brains from all over the country.

Parnika had noticed the exhaustion as Jay had dragged himself upstairs to his room when she had opened the door. She was lending a hand to Jay’s mother, Shalini Shah in the kitchen when the doorbell chimed. “Pari beta, can you check on him for me, please?” Shalini asked, busy kneading the dough. “Haan Ma.” Parnika ceased chopping the vegetables and rested the knife on the chopping board. She washed her hands and grabbed a glass of water with her upstairs. 

“So, how was the event? Did you have fun?” She smiled, handing him a glass of water. “Don’t even get me started, Pari. I thought it’d be a lot of fun. Instead it turned out to be a lot of work. We had managed to finish the system build well before the deadline. But later, we had to upgrade our project a lot more considering the tough competition from other teams. Though the exhibition was much easier than the trip back home.” Jay smiled, taking tiny sips. He returned the empty glass back to Pari as he started to unpack his luggage.

“The dinner is almost ready. Aren’t you coming downstairs?” She takes the glass back from him. “Just give me some time to freshen up and I’ll be there with you guys.” Jay blurts trying to find something in his bag. Parnika heads back downstairs to help Shalini in the kitchen. 

Parnika was back home for the summer holidays. After graduating as a surgeon, she decided to specialise in modern cancer treatments. Coming back home from Aurangabad was a pleasant feeling. She wasn't quite a fan of hostel life. To her, being back home was euphoric. One of the reasons being, she could spend more time with Jay. She missed him a lot back in Aurangabad. Once it is over, I’ll be back with him just like always, she used to remind herself whenever she felt homesick.

It was past half an hour and everyone was waiting for Jay at the dining table. “Would you please check on him? See, what’s taking him so long?” Parnika heads upstairs to check upon Jay on Shalini’s insistence while Arindam scrolled through his phone reading and replying to the messages. 

“Ma and Pa are waiting downstairs for you.” She asked, knocking at the closed door. “I’m coming Pari! Let me change into something comfortable. This formal attire is the least comfortable piece of clothing in this world. It feels as if I am cooked inside a microwave.”  Jay rants, picking up a t-shirt and a pair of pyjamas. He had walked out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his lower half. She pushes the door open a little, coming to a halt as she notices Jay dressing up with his back turned towards the door.

Jay slides the T-shirt down the torso replying to Parnika. Just when he is about to pick up the pyjamas,  the towel slips down his hips and he hears the door slammed shut. That somehow brings a smile on his face, as he shakes his head continuing to pull up the pyjamas. Shutting the door, she rested her back on the door. Standing still, her heart beats paced up as she contemplated the moment. Maybe, I could’ve peeped in for a while? Her internal monologue continued as she smiled walking downstairs with a hint of blush on her face. 

Noticing a smile on her face, Arindam and Shalini exchanged smiles as they wiped the plates clean with a piece of cloth. “He’s coming. Let me get the plates ready until then.” Parnika said, taking her seat at the table. She picked up a bowl and started serving the food.

“When does Seema return from her jatra?” Shalini enquired about giving a helping hand to Parnika. “As per the itinerary, the group should be back by tomorrow. I tried calling her in the morning but her phone was out of reach. Although I have left her a message, she’ll reply once she gets a stable network connection.” Parnika replied as the dinner was served. Everyone at the dining table now was waiting for Jay to begin the dinner. 

The Shah’s and Mehta’s were more like an extended family than neighbours. Parnika’s mother was supposed to return soon from her jatra. Initially, Parnika had no plans of returning home for the summer holidays. But as her schedule permitted later on, she decided to surprise her mom. Parnika had planned to drop by for a week to celebrate her mom’s birthday as well as to spend some time with her. The surprise ended up being a shock for Seema as Parnika showed up on the door when she was about to leave for her jatra.

Seema was worried about leaving her daughter alone. But everything was booked months in advance and cancelling now wasn't an option. She wondered if Parnika could stay with the Shah family for this summer. Hence before parting, Seema asked Shalini to take care of Parnika. 

“Yes, mountains are a tough place to find a stable network connection. Remember the last time we went to Shimla?” Shalini asked Arindam who was quite busy with his own thoughts at that moment. Shalini kept staring at him until he looked at her, making them burst out into a roar of laughter.

“What happened? Share with me too.” Jay walks down in his loose fitting navy blue tee and black pyjamas rolling up his sleeves. “Nothing, your dad phased out again between a conversation.” Shalini teased Arindam who kept his head down playing with his spoon. “Ohooo! Not again!” Jay chuckles. 

“Wow, Palak Paneer! Yum! You totally made my day Ma!” Jay exclaimed, licking his finger dipping in the gravy whilst taking a seat on the dining table. “You should thank Pari for this, she’s the chef for the day.” Shalini gestures towards Parnika who was now looking at Jay with a hint of blush on her cheeks.

“Thanks a ton Pari!” Jay bends to her side embracing Parnika planting a soft kiss on her cheek. “Nothing’s better than yummy food after a hard working day, right Pa?” a few crumbs fall out as Jay munches on to the laccha paratha. 

“Agreed, I wish your mom made such lovely dishes every day.” Arindam glanced at his wife on his side who was glaring at him. She playfully hits him on the thigh under the table. “Remember, what I had said in the kitchen? These men are all the same. No matter what you do it won’t be enough ever.” Parnika couldn’t control herself giggling at the remark.

“Not my fault dear, Pari is such a lovely girl. At times, I wish we had a daughter like her.” Arindam says as Parnika looks down at her plate to hide the redness painting her cheeks.  “Hey! I am here! Ain’t I a good son?” Jay waves his hand with his mouth half full. “Yes, you are but we thought we would get a daughter first and it turned out to be you.” Shalini said, patting Jay’s cheek who was now frowning. 

The dinner time was a lively time for the Shah family to bond together as during the day they'd be busy at work. It was the only time they met at one place. Arindam being a well known neurosurgeon who often used to stay away from home due to work.

Shalini used to spend time at her dental clinic. She had ceased practicing post marriage. But a few years later, due to Arindam's insistence, she decided to set up a clinic. It was a few blocks away from their residence so that she could stay close by for the kids. She decided to continue her dental practice full-time once again when the kids were old enough to take care of themselves. 

Parnika often used to spend a lot of her time at the Shah residence. It was like a second home to her. Parnika’s dad was an officer in the Indian Air Force. His aircraft met a crash during a routine mission when she was barely nine years old. The tragedy led to his demise, shaking the Mehta family to its roots. Since then, Parnika and her mother used to live alone, away from most fun and frolics of life. Things started to change when the Shah family arrived in the neighbourhood. Unlike others, the Shah family had a different approach towards life. As the time passed, Parnika and Jay went on to become close friends.

Their parents had noticed their bond getting deeper with time. They used to smile at the way both their kids complimented each other. A fitting pair, like two pieces of a puzzle. Hence, both parents had developed a desire to get their kids married to each other when they are of appropriate age. But at the same time, they wanted their kids to explore the fact on their own. They wished for Jay and Parnika to realise the importance of each other in their lives. 

A few years after the Shah family’s arrival in Ahmedabad,  Jay was blessed with a sister, Khushi. Even though she was a few years younger to Jay, her demeanor claimed as she’s the elder one of the duo. Hitesh Vyas used to study in the same class as Jay. He was the one who kept Jay company when Parnika migrated to pursue her career in medicine. He often used to stay at Jay’s place to work together on projects or finish the assignments and also to keep him company whenever none around.

They were like brothers from different mothers. Everything was seemingly perfect. Everyone appeared to be happy in their lives apart from one fact that Jay never expressed. With busy parents, he often used to feel alone and deprived of love. Being a child, he used to spend most of his time with Parnika when his parents were at work. But as the time passed, they grew up and things started to change.

It left him a feeling of unease noticing the smiling faces of the parents, when he spent time with Parnika. It was a weird feeling for him. He often wondered about the shift in their behaviour. Also, as the time passed Parnika’s shift in behaviour also led Jay to drift away from her. It resulted in Jay spending less and less time with Parnika than usual. Due to this, he had started to feel more lonely than usual. He kept his thoughts hidden under a smile that was always seen on his face. Gradually, he seldom shared what was going on inside his head.

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