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"We'll be there in another two hours," Trishul announced as he swung the car onto the expressway, the opposite lane crowded with the Friday afternoon traffic as folks fled the city for the weekend.
"Can't I just checkout and pick up my stuff before we go over to your place?" Rachit asked.
"You really want to drive halfway across town in rush hour traffic?" Trishul asked, adding, "You don't need your stuff right now, so, why bother. Instead lets freshen-up, go out and have some fun, and tomorrow morning, on my way to the office, I'll drop you off at the hotel and you can collect your stuff, and checkout!"
"Okay..." Rachit nodded.
Uncle Pranav had called the previous day, to remind Trishul about Saturday - his thirty-third wedding anniversary.
"And get here by Friday evening," he had said, "I don't want you to come at the last minute and make a traffic-induced, exhausted entry! And oh, drop by the office around ten in the morning, there's something you need to see before the board meeting next month."
"Sure," Trishul had agreed.
"And do bring your visitor along..." Uncle had added, "if he's still there, and Sanjeev hasn't crippled him!"
"Will do," Trishul had laughed.
"Of course the whole family will be there..."
"And your cousins must have... um, told them... about us?"
"No one, none of them, including Trishanu and Trishanku, know anything about us," exclaimed Trishul, mildly surprised, "and neither do they need to know, not unless you want them to know..."
"Fine," Rachit had finally agreed, "and, um... I think I'll also collect my stuff and check out of the hotel..."
"You're checked into a Mumbai hotel?" Trishul asked, thrilled that Rachit was finally revealing something about himself.
"Um... uh, yes," began Rachit, "I had pla... planned to make Mumbai my base... and..." suddenly trailing off.
But Trishul didn't mind... his heart was already slamming. Rachit had just mentioned checking out and collecting his stuff... but had added nothing else... nothing about going home... and that probably held the unspoken intimation of Rachit's intent of returning to the vineyard... spend a few more days with him!
The very thought was frightfully exciting... and it sent an instant tingle coursing down his spine.
It had been almost two weeks since Dash had found Rachit in the woods, two mesmerising weeks... And since last Monday, their first evening together at the vineyard, the evening that changed everything... Trishul had been floating around in an enflurane haze... every moment a living dream!
Maybe Rachit would stay back... be with him for... for... God, he didn't want to think so far ahead... not yet. But what was the harm in savouring the moment... Thrill in the hint of an unvoiced promise!
Rachit nodded, smiling back at him.
It was a pretty little guest-house with a wrap-around porch, tucked seductively in a quiet lane off Apollo Bunder in Colaba; set in its own garden of ancient trees, and hidden from the street by a high wall.
Trishul pulled over and cut the engine, "Your hotel," he grinned, already feeling a surge of excitement at the thought of Rachit moving, actually moving in with him!
"Thanks," smiled Rachit, opening the door.
"Take a cab and call me as soon as you get home," Trishul said, reaching out and taking Rachit's hand.
Rachit laughed, "Sure, will do..."
"And please, don't get lost!"
"Well, you did get lost, once, in the woods," Trishul grinned wickedly, "and now, don't get lost in the city!"
"Very funny, huh!"
"Oh, by the way," Trishul called as Rachit got out of the car, reaching for the pocketbook on the dash and extracting a business card, "I'm really getting dumb, here, my number, nearly forgot that you don't have it..."
"Thanks," Rachit smiled once more, "I'll call..."
"And if you have any trouble getting a cab, or forget the direction back home, don't hesitate, call," Trishul said, reluctant to let go, "I'll pick you up..."
"Trishul," laughed Rachit, "I'll neither get lost, nor forget the direction to your place, so, now you go and finish your work at the office, and then pick me up for lunch!"
"Cool, see you..." Trishul waved, starting the car.
'Damn,' Trishul cursed silently as he walked out of the office building and got into his car.
It was exactly noon, and Rachit should have been home ages ago... and yet, the guy hadn't called!
"You seem suddenly distracted," smiled Uncle Pranay after a while.
"Um, no," laughed Trishul, "just making sure we won't be late for lunch at Trishanu's... you know, with all the traffic!"
"Why, of course," exclaimed Uncle Pranay, "you go on, and enjoy, see you in the evening."
"No, sir," said the old lady, "he hasn't returned yet."
Trishul cursed under his breath as he cut the call and started the car... there was surely no reason for the delay - in simply checking out, or, getting back home!
Where could the guy be? If there had been a problem... like getting a cab, or finding his way back - he had the number, he should have called!
Well, he'd go to the hotel and find out for himself!
"Hi," he returned the smile, "I'm here to meet one of your guest, Rachit... Is he in?"
"Sir?" the lady questioned, the smile still intact, the eyes curious.
"Um, you have a guest, Rachit," Trishul repeated, suddenly feeling strange, "is he in, or has he checked out?"
"Sorry, sir," the lady smiled once more, without even bothering to check the guest list before answering, "we do not have a guest with that name."
But then, it was a small place, probably just a dozen rooms at most, so the lady must know what she was talking about.
"Um, he was checked in... um, well, I dropped him here this morning... around nine-thirty..." Trishul fumbled, suddenly realising how little he actually knew about Rachit -- like, when he'd checked in, how long he'd been there, from where he'd come...
"Do you have a last name, sir," she asked, still courteous, saving him from further fumbling, but leaving him totally embarrassed.
"Um," he shook his head feeling absolutely weird, the flush rising rapidly, "no... uh, but he was supposed to check out... after I dropped him this morning... um, could you please, uh, tell me if any of your guests have checked out, um, around ten?"
"Sorry, sir," the lady smiled, but no longer as dazzling, nor welcoming, the eyes suddenly wary, "we can't help."
"Um, thank you..." Trishul nodded, quickly turning away, red-faced, his ears throbbing hotly with chagrin.
... to be continued
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