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Trishul blinked open his eyes and sensed the warm lump curled against his back... and as he slowly raised the blanket, Dash raised his head, giving a short, snappy 'good-morning' bark, rolling over...
Trishul felt happy as he lazily tickled the dog's belly - he had Dash for sixteen years now, an old dachshund well past his average lifespan - and they both couldn't do without each other. But lately, over the past three months, Dash refused to stay with Trishul, sleep in the house at night when they visited the farmhouse each weekend, following Ashu instead, returning in the morning.
It had left Trishul wondering, and a wee bit disappointed. But then, he had always been indulgent when it came to Dash, especially as the dog had grown older, and had simply shrugged it off. After all, dachshunds are known for their extreme whimsical ways and fierce stubbornness, constantly trying to impose their will on their master... call the shots at every opportunity.
But that Saturday night, Dash had stayed back, refusing to let Trishul out of his sight, whining away to be picked up... barking furiously when Ashu tried to take him away. Trishul didn't understand the sudden change of heart, but having him back felt nice, and he had actually been happy!
And as he let out a lazy yawn and stretched, he suddenly remembered Rachit... remembered the previous day's incidents... wondering how the man was, if he had slept well.
He had asked both Mohan and Ashu-kaka to stay back at the house instead of going to their own home beyond the orchard, where all the staff had their private quarters.
Well, Ashu-kaka was there to take care and he needn't worry... he'd go to the beach as usual, and once he got back he'd enquire about their guest's condition.
Getting off the bed he felt a slight shiver course down his youthful, supple frame as the cool morning air caressed his naked body... the fine hair on his arms and legs bristling, making him quickly reach for and pull on his shorts and the tracks.
"C'mon, Dash," he called as he opened the bedroom door, "let's go to the beach!"
"Your coffee is ready," smiled Ashu opening the door as Trishul walked up the gravel path to the solarium. Dash tramping a few paces behind, curiously nosing the hedge bordering the path as it swayed and rustled in the light morning breeze.
"Thank you, Ashu-kaka," he smiled back, "And how's Rachit, awake?"
"Yes, I just took his tea."
"Did he sleep well, and you?"
"He slept well, and so did I," Ashu smiled, placing the newspaper next to the coffee cup.
"Good, I'll see him after breakfast..." Trishul said, opening the day's paper.
They had put Rachit in the ground-floor den, a room at the back of the house, once his grandfather's 'smoking-room', but hardly used anymore... cosy with plush rugs, deep couches and comfortable divans.
Trishul knocked on the door and entered, "Hey, how are you feeling this morning?"
"Much better, thank you," Rachit gave a faint smile, attempting to prop himself up on the pillows.
"Relax, you don't need to get up," smiled Trishul, walking in and taking a chair near the large french window. "Slept well?"
"Yes," nodded Rachit, "it must have been the injections."
"And how's the foot?"
"Still sore, but I'm sure I'll survive," Rachit replied with an embarrassed smile, and then added after a brief pause, "Hey, I'm really sorry about all this..."
"It's okay, really, you didn't plan to get lost and fall into a ditch," Trishul interjected even before the man could finish. "You're lucky you came this way, to the south, there's no habitation in or around that wood for miles... and thankfully, no wild beasts either!"
"Yes, guess so..." Rachit nodded his head.
"Listen, you don't need to worry about anything, just relax and get well, and then..." he paused, suddenly unsure, "um, well, once you can walk we can have you dropped back in town..."
"Thanks," Rachit mumbled, lowering his eyes.
Abruptly standing up Trishul stared out of the window, "Um, I'm here today, but go back to work tomorrow..." he said, still looking away, "but don't worry, Ashu-kaka and Mohan stay here, will look after you..."
Rachit looked up, as if wanting to ask something, but then desisted, simply nodding his head.
"Um..." Trishul hesitated for a moment before quickly adding, "ring the bell if you need something. And please, don't hesitate, you can call home, or friends, whenever you want..."
Rachit nodded once more, "Thanks, Trishul..."
Trishanu's call came as Trishul was leaving the office that Friday evening...
"Hey, little brother," his cousin's voice boomed, "left, or still at the office?"
"Leaving," replied Trishul.
"Was wondering if Trishanku and I, just the two of us, not the girls or the kids, can come down for a day this weekend."
"Any time," smiled Trishul, "you don't need to ask!"
"Well..." Trishanu drawled, "heard you had a house-guest, so wanted to make sure..."
"Heard?" grinned Trishul, "And, house-guest? I already told you what happened!"
"And I don't believe you!" retorted Trishanu, the tone exasperatingly patronising.
"When did you actually meet him, and where?" Trishanu asked, a salacious edge to the voice. "And how long has this been going on?"
"Oh, c'mon," laughed Trishul, "you know the whole story, and that's the truth!"
"Well, we'll check that out soon..."
"And that's why you two want to drop in, huh, to check him out?!"
"Of course, we need to check out the guy our little brother's dating... make sure he hasn't picked up the wrong guy in his desperation!" Trishanu quipped, making Trishul let out a disgusted grunt. "And remember, we had to first introduce all our girlfriends, get your 'approval' even before we could date them!"
"HAH, as if you two ever really cared about my views, waited for my approval..." sniggered Trishul.
"We did, didn't we, you were always the first to meet any girl we were interested in."
"Listen, you two come over, but for God's sake, don't embarrass me in front of Rachit!"
"There!" Trishanu exclaimed triumphantly, "If he didn't mean a thing, if he was really just an unfortunate victim seeking temporary shelter under your roof you simply wouldn't care one way or another..."
"My dear big brother," Trishul cut in, giving a condescending laugh, "please do come and act the fool for all I care, but please don't freak the poor guy, he still needs to be here for a couple more days before he can leave..."
Trishanu let out a disappointed sigh, "Well, was seriously hoping that you were finally dating again, having some fun..."
"Okay, little brother, how about tomorrow," Trishanu asked, "we could be there by noon."
"Perfect," replied Trishul, "and I'll tell Madhuri you are coming over for the weekend..."
"Just for the day, not the weekend, we can't stay back."
"Cool, see you tomorrow..."
Rachit was a guest at his home, and it was his duty to be there... He felt compelled. C'mon, he simply wanted to be civil, besides, he was alone at the vineyard anyway. At least, he could talk to someone for a change... someone who wasn't an employee!
But all his justifications, his reasoning about being civil, about being a conscientious host, had suddenly been challenged by that single call from Trishanu. And as he drove out of the vineyard office complex, his cousin's ludic joshing forced his mind to reconsider the explanations he'd used, yes, to delude himself with...
His mind once more going over the events of the past week - his finding the man in the ditch by the woods and getting him home...
And as he reminisced that encounter at the edge of the woods, with a shameful flush he recollected the tingle he had felt when he held Rachit in his arms... helped him up. The thrill that had coursed down his spine when the man had leaned against him... And yes, the disgraceful stirring in his loins when Rachit had held him for support, their bodies touching... in close contact.
The overpowering fascination he had felt when he went to see him the next morning, after breakfast... seeing him lying on that divan, bathed in the soft glow of the morning sun... so vulnerable... wide-eyed and lost. Suddenly unable to remain in the room any longer... leaving abruptly.
And yet he had been incapable of staying away... irresistibly drawn back to the room - returning later in the morning... and after lunch... spending the whole evening in that den, talking... before finally, reluctantly, returning to his own bedroom... after he had promised that he'd be back at the farmhouse, each evening, after work.
The guy was simply gorgeous... incredibly handsome, despite all those cuts and bruises that marred his face. And those haunting brown eyes - large and liquid... oh, so vinously intoxicating.
Trishul had felt a compulsive need to be there, be with Rachit... Wanting to hold him in his arms... protect him. Enthralled with their conversation... warm with the sense of contentment he felt when he was in the company of the stranger.
The guy was actually very interesting - well-bred, well-informed and intelligent - a real pleasure to talk to. Yes, seeming a wee bit confused at times... um, or was it reticence... reluctance? Especially whenever their conversation veered even remotely to anything personal - family, work or his trip... looking away as he hemmed and hawed, before quickly changing the topic.
Trishul had wondered, but then quickly decided that it must be an error of his own perception... a result, no doubt, of all those stupid ideas that Sanjeev had put into his head that first day!
Lost in his disturbing thoughts he was abruptly jerked out of his reverie by the urgent blaring of a horn around the sharply winding stretch of road, quickly righting his car as a heavily loaded truck zoomed past him. He slowed down, shaking his head in disbelief... and taking a deep breath remonstrated himself for being so utterly careless, forcing his mind away from thoughts of Rachit and concentrate on the road.
There had already been that dreadful tragedy, once... a tragedy that had cast its brutal shadow over his family, claiming a terrible toll in its wake... and he simply couldn't put his family through another disaster, not again!
He owed it to them...
... to be continued
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