Copyright © Varsha Dixit 2017
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in a retrieval system, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the author.
Don't do it, Dani. Don't open the message. Delete it! Her mind screamed at her but Danika couldn't help. Her hands shook yet opened the message and enlarged the grainy photograph. Piyush still owns a shitty phone with a shitty camera! Whatever satisfaction Danika felt from that bitchy thought died a quick death.
It was a picture of Piyush and Shazia leaning into each other, big smiles and happy eyes with The Eiffel Tower framed behind them. Danika read the text at the bottom of the picture and felt like someone had landed her a hard kick in her solar plexus. Her eyes stung. 'First day of Honeymoon!! Will remember 10th October for different reasons now. Best regards, Piyush.'
Danika kept staring at the picture until it became blurry. Something fell on her cell with a soft 'plop'. Danika jerked realizing her eyes were leaking. Fresh betrayal struck her in the same spot where she was already shredded in; straight to the left of her chest! How did this happen? They got married? But how?
A homeless woman in mismatched clothes and shoes several sizes bigger than her hobbled in front of the car. Getting out of the car, Danika grabbed her box of her two years worth of collectibles which included ramen soup, cereal bar boxes, ibuprofen, sanitary napkins and a collection of lip balms among other odd things. She was only surprised that she did not have a bed in that box for she had spent innumerable hours in that brownstone building. “Here, for you! It has food and stuff!” Danika sniffed and thrust the box in the homeless woman's hand and quickly walked back to her car.
“Hang in there love! Things will get better!” The woman called out from behind.
Danika got in, waved at the woman and reversed the car with tires squealing. Her insides burned much like the car tires on the concrete. Danika drove the car out on the Broadway and Lincoln. She had to wipe her eyes with the back of her hand. Why do I mean so little to so many? The traffic downtown was heavy at this time of the day. In fact, it was heavy at any time of the day. A white and green cab fell behind Danika. Obviously Danika wasn't driving fast enough for the cab driver or the cab driver had forgotten one of his hands on the car horn.
‘Oh shut up will you!’ Danika repeatedly wiped her eyes and pressed the accelerator. The shiny red car jumped.
“Dammit!” Now even her nose was leaking. She tried stretch the three-fourth sleeve of her blouse to blow her nose in. Faces of Craig, Piyush and Shazia kept swirling unstoppably in front of Danika like some horror film hologram. Left to right, left to right, round and round. To a point their faces merged into one ugly cruel face. Danika whimpered.
Dr. Noah Collins rubbed his overnight stubble as he maneuvered his rental car past a tour bus lurching on a narrow street. Philadelphia afternoon wasn't much different from a Baltimore afternoon; dreary, polluted and gray! But here he was, thousands of miles from a city he had grown in.
“You need a damn change of place ASAP bud!” His therapist and college friend Dr. Lana Singh, had repeated often enough.
“Keeping the same routine, going to the same stores, the same restaurants you went to with Alicia isn't healthy. And you know that!” She tapped the tip of her nose with her silver pen. Her sharp gaze studying Noah over her circular glasses during one of their recent sessions in the Starbucks near her office. Noah had refused to see Lana in her office or sit on her couch so she had conducted their sessions in restaurants, coffee shops and once, even in a grocery store aisle. She was costing Noah two hundred dollars an hour plus food and drinks. And that was with her 'friends' discount.
“Noah, you are exhibiting signs of chronic dysfunction, this inability to let go! A few days, weeks or months are understandable. But doing it every day, every week for nearly two years is very unhealthy.” Lana had drilled in his ears.
Fed up of Noah's stubbornness to listen but not act, Lana had gone to his family, who in turn had gone to Alicia's family. It was ‘lets-throw-him- out-of-city’ kind of intervention. The result was that in less than a month, Noah was in Philadelphia where he had accepted a job offer - Head of Cardiology department at Thomas Jefferson Hospital with a start date next week.
Constant honks made Noah swing his gaze to the rear view mirror. A taxi cab, one red car, behind him were honking like it was required by the law.
'Have to find a place to live!' Noah tapped his fingers on the wheel. Mother can find me something near the hospital. His mother was one of the top realtors in Boston with investment property all over the country. He reached out for his cell phone. It slipped from his fingers and went under the seat.
“Fuck!” Noah just realized that the traffic light in front of him was about to turn red from yellow. He slammed hard on the brakes. His whole body jolted like John Cena had punched him in the back. Making an awful loud metallic grating sound, the car's metal frame shuddered, jerked, and came to a stop. The jerk was not caused by Noah's hitting his brakes but by someone else not hitting their brakes soon enough - the red car behind him!
Some dick rear ended me! Noah opened his seat belt and shifted his body gingerly to make sure nothing in his body was broken. Phew! And in that nanosecond, Dr. Noah Collins realized one very important thing, one thing that Lana had been trying to make him comprehend - he wasn't ready to meet his maker yet!
Danika barely had time to register that the car in front of her had stopped. She slammed on her brakes but it was too late. The bonnet of her Honda slammed the trunk of the silver car. She heard the horrible sound of her bumper breaking and twisting as her body wrenched painfully, restrained by the seat belt. I just freaking rear-ended someone! My car is totaled. My insurance rates will go through the roof. I'm screwed and jobless! Oh my God, oh my God! Each thought more blood curdling than its predecessor robbed Danika of the power to move or speak. She could only stare at the mangled red metal in front of her that was now spewing fumes.
Repeated knocks on the window finally penetrated Danika's shocked mind. Her ponytail had come loose and most of her hair now covered her face. A man peered in, his onyx eyes questioning. He was speaking to her. Danika lowered the window with her trembling hands.
“Are you okay? Are you hurt? I'm a doctor.” Noah studied the girl's face for any signs of pain or bodily discomfort.
Danika shook her head. Her lips felt stuck to each other. The man with some gray in his sideburns gestured her to come out of the car. Working on reflexes since her brain had plunged into sudden coma, Danika undid her seatbelt. Something else came off - her foot from the brake!
With a sickening crushing sound, she hit the car in front of her, again. Like some lacerated, dying beast, the other car shuddered and with a loud ugly groan it rolled forward a few more feet on to the intersection, in the direct path of a garbage truck!
"Hit the brakes. Hit the brakes!” She could hear the man shouting at her through the window. People on the pavement near the intersection scampered to get away from the inevitable accident. Slamming on her brakes, Danika could only watch horrified. The truck driver tried to stop his lumbering green vehicle. More metal on metal sounds, smell of burning tires and fizzing smoke were the only things that Danika registered.
A wiry muscled hand peppered with dark hair reached past her and shut off the ignition. “Are you fucking high?”
“What?” Danika blinked her eyes as she acknowledged the approaching police siren. It caused her to move. “No! I'm not high!” Ducking down, she pushed at the door. It refused to move. The man, around 5'11, moved back, all the while scrutinizing her. Danika pushed and kicked at the door. A sudden realization dawned on her. “Oh my God! There must be someone in the car I just hit!” Danika beat the door trying to open it. It finally opened with some help form the man. Danika jumped out. She skidded and would have fallen down had it not been for the timely intervention of the man. He held her up by the forearm, his grip painful. But Danika did not care. Her anxious eyes were on the car she had just pushed in the path of the truck.
“There is no one in the car!” The man blocked her path. “What the hell were you thinking?” His voice was curt, his full mouth puckered in irritation. “You were right behind me. How did you not see the red light? Look at the fucking mess you made!” He gestured at the pile sitting in the middle of the intersection.
Danika cocked her head her eyes darkened. I rear-ended him! He's the idiot! She speared him with a glare.
“Go back where you came from bitch!” Someone from the small crowd of onlookers that had gathered on the pavement shouted.
The man turned to them. 'Oh for fucks sake there is no need for talk-"
“You moron! Who gave you a freakin license?” Danika's low voice interrupted him.
The man’s eyebrows rose high over his wide set eyes. “What did you just say?”
“You did not see the light? I was behind you, you stupid piece of shit.” Screaming did not come naturally to Danika so her voice was quiet but ferocity and rage shook her body. She wanted to throttle the man in front of her.
Noah took a step toward her. “You little idiot.”
“What happened here? Someone hit the bottle early?” It was a woman cop with a dour expression. “You two okay?”
“She said she is from ISIS!” A voice yelled again from the bystanders.
“What? No!” Danika stuttered.
The cop went to from bored to menacing in seconds. “10-94! I repeat 10-94! I need backup!” She shouted in the radio attached to her shoulder and to her partner. Her partner, who had been walking with some swagger stopped immediately, placing his hand on the holster.
In seconds, Danika was staring at the two guns. For a person who had never seen any weapon other than a fly swatter, the cold gray barrel of gun was quite a big jump. What the hell is going on? Jobless, carless and shot to death in matter of hours! Her teeth began to chatter and her knees began to buck. Her body felt cold and hot at the same time. “I… I…”
“She said nothing like that!” Noah interjected.
“Sir you stay back!” The policewoman ordered.
“C’mon!” The woman beckoned Danika. “Over to the pavement. No sudden movements! C'mon.” Then she looked at Noah. “You Sir wait here.”
“Listen, this is a misunderstanding-“
“I am not talking to you!” The Cop gestured at Danika. “C'mon move!”
“But I. . I didn't!” Danika's steps were stilted and unsteady.
The Cop made her stand against the wall and frisked her. Danika winced as the cop patted her back. “This is a huge misunderstanding!’ She feverishly licked her dry lips. ‘It is all that man's fault. He slammed his brakes.”
“Not a crime to hit the brakes in this city!” The burly cop now moved to her legs. “You could have killed someone.’
In Danika's mind, Piyush and Craig suddenly didn't seem that bad. I hate that man! Danika lowered her head to her chest even as she rested her forehead on the gray wall of a building.
“Put your hands behind your back.” The woman cop ordered.
Danika cringed and began to plead. “I'm not a terrorist, I'm not from ISIS, I promise. I never said. Please listen to me!”
“Please cooperate Ma’am.” The Cop brought Danika's hands down.
Danika felt the cold steel around her wrists. Please let me wake up now, please let me wake up now...please! She bit her lips.
The cop shuffled Danika to the pavement. “Sit down!”
Danika flopped down on the cracked cement. The foul smell coming from a nearby drain, made her stomach turn.
“Don't I get a call?” Danika asked a clean shaved young cop who hovered close. He looked as if he had recently graduated high school.
The woman cop beat the young cop from answering. “You are not being arrested.” She frowned. “Just put the cuffs on you for everyone's safety. Sit tight and stop talking.”
Danika’s eyes wandered back to the accident site on the intersection. Paramedics had arrived and were checking the driver of the garbage truck. Am I going to jail? Danika swallowed the plum sized lump in her throat. Her head suddenly felt very tight. Now even Bro will disown me!
“No, I'm fine. Thank you. The major impact happened after I was out of the car.” Dr. Noah Collins, seated on the steps of the ambulance, assured the paramedic. “Is the driver okay?”
“Which one?” The paramedic retorted and walked back to the truck driver who was being examined by another paramedic.
Unnecessary hassles and paperwork! Noah scowled irritated. His eyes darted to the woman who had caused the mayhem. He saw her seated on the pavement, her hands cuffed behind her back. The woman cop and another cop hovered around her.
Noah's scowl faded as he observed the young woman with a now-messed-up high ponytail, big dark eyes, small but sharp nose, thin cheeks and short chin. Staring down, she kept blinking her lids, her face hanging down.
“Did you check her?” Noah asked the paramedic inside the ambulance.
“Yup! She is fine!”
The girl shifted her head and Noah found her looking straight at him. Her expression altered. The wounded look disappeared. Her eyes blazed with anger. Noah could not bring himself to look away. Her gaze was intense and riveting.
Keeping her eyes fixed on him, the woman rose unsteadily to her feet. She took a step forward and then paused. Her eyes narrowed as she gazed at her other foot still raised. She lurched. The Cop said something to her, trying to stop her. The girl vigorously shook her head refusing to sit down even as her body twitched again. The woman's face went pale. 'She is going to faint!' Noah took a step forward. The woman's head tilted back. “Cradle her head!” Noah shouted running toward her. She began to fold like a punctured balloon.
Danika’s first thought was that a ball of cotton was stuffed between her ears. Her eyes fluttered open to piercing light. She was lying on a cushion of some sort. A soft masculine voice spoke to her. “Blink your eyes twice if you can hear me." Danika narrowed her eyes trying to see the person talking to her. All she saw was a silhouette against the bright light.
Danika swallowed just as her body jolted. ‘I’m moving!’ That thought brought some clarity to her mind. She saw the handsome African American bending over her. Idris Elba is taking care of me! Danica attempted to pull her lips back trying to smile. “Idris! I love you!” She spoke in a weak voice. Idris smiled. “She is okay!” He said to somebody. Then Idris addressed her. “You are okay, love. You were in an accident and now we are taking you to the hospital because you fainted. Do you follow me?”
“Okay good! Are you in pain? Any of your body parts hurting?”
“No! Which hospital?" Danika asked in a weak voice.
“Thomas Jefferson!” Idris Elba replied. “We are almost there!”
Danika closed her eyes. “At the hospital please ask for-” She swallowed for her throat felt dry, “Dr. Dhingra.”
“Okay. Can you spell that for me?”
Danika slowly spelled the last name.
“Husband?” Idris Elba asked.
“No. Brother.” Danika closed her eyes succumbing to the frailty she was experiencing in mind and body.
Danika lay on the cold hospital bed in the emergency area. The smell of antiseptic and medicines was strong. Sipping a cup of chilled apple juice, she watched the activity around her. An older Latino man clutching his side sat groaning on the bed next to her. On the bed in front of her a young boy of seven or eight lay down as his mother hovered over him, constantly touching his forehead. On another bed a young woman sat cross legged on the bed, her face pale, eyes glassy. Her blue and pink dyed hair only made her look paler. A purple bruise under her eye and on her cheek spoke its own tale. Hope she hit back too!
Danika sat up alert, her eyes tearing up on seeing the man of around 5'7", in his late thirties, with a benign smile that gave his round face a sagely air. Dr. Hans Dhingra, her step brother. “Hi bro!" She resisted the urge to fling herself in her brother’s arms. Danika's father had died when she was four and a year later her mother had married Hans's father. Hans had been fifteen then. Hans had never cared much for his stepmom but he had welcomed Danika with open arms.
Within a year, Hans had taught her how to climb trees, make paper airplanes, fake body temperature by putting onion in your arm pit and produce killer farts by drinking milk after broccoli. When Danika's mother and step father had died in a freak accident, Hans took the role of her legal guardian – in absentee. At that time, he was pursuing a medical degree living in a hostel in another city.
Danika stayed with several relatives, some gross, some indifferent and some loving though not in the same order. She attended various schools, some good, some rustic and some plain 'meh', again not in the same order. All this made Danika one heck of a survivor and thick skinned. To Danika problems were simply hurdles that begged to be jumped over.
As for her step brother, after completing his MBBS, Hans moved to USA for further studies and work. The distance between Danika and Hans grew bigger yet their sibling bond grew stronger. He started sending money to Danika so she could live in a single girls hostel and pursue her own bachelors in graphic design.
Three years ago, Hans fixed Danika's marriage to the son of one of his patient's cousin based in Los Angeles. Danika had married the stranger and came to USA, happy to be closer to her brother. After her marriage ended abruptly, Danika had moved in with Hans for a while. A few months later, she had found a job and moved in to a tiny apartment. Hans and his wife, Simi had just become parents to twin girls. Simi wasn't overtly fond of Danika and that was fine by Danika. Simi made her goofball of a brother happy and that is all Danika ever expected from her sister-in-law.
“What happened to you?” Dr. Hans asked, pulling a circular stool next to the bed.
“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst, today has been fifteen and a half.” Danika tried to joke but a tear leaked from the corner of her eye making a joke out of her joke.
Dr. Hans opened the nearby box of wet wipes and cleaned her face with it, leaving more moisture on her face than before. Danika appreciated the thought behind the gesture. “Dani, Dani it is not the end of world till it is the end of the world. Tell me the story from the beginning.”
So Danika did, not leaving out a single bit including the vile curses she had bestowed on the man who had caused the accident.
After she finished, Dr. Hans crossed his arms and tilted his head to the side. “It wasn't really that man's fault. You see that, right Dani?”
What the fuck are you saying? It is totally that dilhole's fault. What the fuck is wrong with you Bro? Danika did not give a voice to her acerbic thoughts. She simply stared at her brother, stumped.
Dr. Dhingra took off his glasses and cleaned them with the sleeve of his lab coat. “So, now what?”
“I will probably be thrown in jail!” Danika twisted the sheet.
“They do allow visitors there from time to time.” Dr. Hans put his glasses back on and smiled showing off his perfect teeth. “Just kidding, lil sis. I will talk to the police and I know a lawyer too.”
Danika nibbled at her lips like they were her main course. “I'm so sorry! Will it cost a lot?” She knew her brother was in a very tight financial spot. He was probably the only 'poor' doctor in the whole of United States. Dr. Hans had a knack for making the worst investment. Every Ponzi scheme, big or small, domestic or international, had a common investor - Hans Dhingra.
It had nearly broken his marriage. Her brother was trying hard to mend it by partaking in couple's counseling with his wife of seven years.
“You stay put here!” Her brother patted her hand. “Let me find out what the cops want to do.”
Danika nodded her eyes staring back and forth between her brother's face and the ER door. Are the cops waiting outside to arrest me? Her head began to throb again. “I have never fainted before today!” Her voice was hoarse.
Dr. Dhingra got to his feet and smiled down at her. “You'll be fine!”
“It was all that man's fault! I hope I never see him again! This time I'll just drive over him!” Danika cursed with feeling.
A week later!
“I'm leaving. Bye!” Danika called out, closing the front door behind her. She walked out of the split-level, jetty, stone house with beige, brown bricks and a red tile roof. A few dormers with gabled roofs added character to the upper structure. Terra-cotta and ceramic pots with colorful fauna were placed on either side of the solid mahogany front door adding a splash of color to the exterior. The brightness of the flowers or the stems stayed unchanged through changing seasons. Benefit of artificial flowers!
Danika zipped up the jacket, pulling the slider right up to her chin. “Damn, its cold!” Growing up in warmer temperatures of West India, she always brought jackets a size bigger. Her body enjoyed the cozy feel. Danika walked down the street, heading for the Indian produce store three blocks away, a list in her hand.
Halloween decorations were up in the front of the houses, adding a stroke of orange and green to the neighborhood.
It had been a week since the very eventful October 10th. Fortunately, there were no charges filed against her, criminal or civil. Unfortunately, Danika did not have a car now. Nor could she afford one for the next several years. Her barely there credit history had been wiped out.
Just to pay her rent, utilities and grocery bill, Danika was working on three odd jobs. She worked for a few hours at the Indian grocery store, then as a part-time receptionist at a dentist and lastly in the merchandising department of a retail store. And on weekends, she babysat for people in her brother's neighborhood and for some in her apartment building.
As long I have hope, I can do this and more! Danika raised her chin and waved to some children who were riding their scooters. Out of habit, she stopped as she was about to go past the two nearly four feet posts with metal light sconces placed on top. Behind them lay a sprawling brick house with a charcoal brick exterior, a paved porch that went around the house, several projections in the structure and a short curved driveway lined with trees. Weeds were sprouting in the grass and most of the plants had turned yellow. Being a fan of classics, Danika could not help but draw parallels between this house and the Thrushcross Grange from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. The front arched windows with crimson framing added color and rakish charm to the house. Few months ago the longtime owner, sweet Mrs. Schneider, had passed away in her sleep at the ripe age of 93. Her children had put it on sale immediately for they all lived in sunny California.
Who would trade sand for snow? Danika sighed and started walking again brushing the realtor sign in front of the house that now read, ‘SOLD’. Just hope no piggish realtor buys you to only to tear you down and make more homes! While running errands for the old lady, Mrs. Schneider, who was confined to the house due to severe arthritis, Danika had come to know her well. She was a romantic who had left her homeland to marry her American pen-pal. Mrs. Schneider loved to celebrate all festivals. Her Halloween decorations and lights would go up in September and her Christmas lights on the first of November every year without fail.
Bending down, Danika straightened the two cheap plastic pumpkins she had left under the light sconces at the driveway entrance.
The sounds of rumbling wheels made Danika pivot. A moving company truck slowly made its way down the street heading in Danika's direction.
Are these the new owners? Maybe I should stay just for a bit so I can welcome them! Curious, Danika moved away from the driveway and waited on the pavement under the shade of an orange yellow maple tree.
Her cell rang. Someone was calling her from the Indian grocery store.
It was the store owner's twenty three year old son Param Patel.
'Yes, Param, I'm two minutes away!' Danika replied turning away from Mrs. Schneider's house and resumed walking toward the place of work that smelled of rice and spice.
Noah drove past the moving truck and parked his Harley Davidson softtail slim bike near the pavement. What the hell?
Taking off his helmet, he moved around just gazing at the never-ending house and land.
“This is the house?” One of the movers called out to him.
“Hold on!” Noah waved him off, signaling him to wait as he called his realtor. She answered in two rings.
“What the heck did you buy me mom?”
“Language, Noah Abe!” His mother reprimanded.
Noah paused. “Sorry! What the hell did you buy me?”
His mother sighed. “It's a just a house.”
“No, it’s not!” Noah's tone was testy. “It's a massive ruin.”
“Then un-ruin it. Fix it!” She commanded in dulcet tones. “There was a time when you liked DIY house projects.”
“That was in college! Is Dad around?”
His mom paused. Noah could imagine her silver colored eyes narrow. “Are you going to complain to your dad about me?”
Noah shook his head and some of his dark hair grazed his forehead. He pushed it back carelessly. “What? No! I just wanna say hi to him.”
“Oh!” His mother exhaled noisily in his ear. 'You know I got this amazing house dirt-cheap. It's a great neighborhood with the market, movie theatre and awesome schools within walking distance.'
Noah ignored how she slyly slipped in the part about school. After Alicia's death, his mother had been pushing him to get back on the dating bandwagon. Noah had pushed right back. He was practical enough to know that one day he might develop romantic feelings for someone else but that seemed light years from now.
Noah walked out to the movers and handed them the keys his mother had shipped him. “Okay you guys go in. Just put the stuff in any room, anyhow you want.”
“Noah Abe Collins!” His mom's tone felt withering in his ear.
“You got me the house. Your work ends there.”
His mom, sixty two years old Victoria Collins, had raised her two sons and one daughter with patience and thick skin. “Give it six months. If you still don't like the ruin, sell it back to me. I will tear it down and build three houses in that area and make a ton of money. Now do you still want to whine in your father's ear?”
Noah smirked, revealing a dimple in his cheek. “No, I think I'm good.”
“Met any neighbors yet?”
“Nope!” Walking out to the pavement, Noah glanced around. He saw a slim, tall woman talking on her phone, walking away from him. Her walk was jaunty. Noah watched her till she turned the corner and disappeared. Then he glanced around to the other side. The street, lined with yellow and gold sugar maple and dogwood trees, was quiet.
“So whom did this house belong to?”
"Some old hag who died suddenly and kids wanted to get rid of this monstrosity.'
“Talking of old hags, mom-“
“Perish that thought, Noah!” His mother hung up on her oldest not before Noah heard the dry grin in her voice.
A woman in her late thirties or early forties, thin as a reed with bird like features and a stiff bob, stepped out of the house next to his new lodgings with a plate covered with tin foil in her hand. She seemed of Asian Indian origin.
“Hi!” She walked toward him, smiling. “I’m Simi Dhingra. Welcome to the neighborhood!”
They shook hands.
“New to the area?” Simi asked.
“New to the city. I’m from Boston.” Noah replied, subtly eyeing the foil covered plate. He had skipped breakfast this morning.
“I love Boston. Have been there a few times for work. Anyhow, Philly is great too! My husband, my twin girls and I stay there.” She pointed at her two story brownstone. This is a lovely neighborhood and most of the families have been here for ages. Do you have kids?”
“No, it’s just me!” Noah shook his head.
“Oh!” Simi extended her plate toward him. “These are for you! Chocolate chip cookies.”
“Thank you!” As Noah bent to take the plate, a white envelope flew down from the pocket of his leather jacket.
Simi retrieved it for him. “Oh! That's the hospital my husband works at."
“Thanks.” Noah stuffed the envelope back in his pocket. “He's a doc?”
“He's a cardiologist at Thomas Jeff.”
“Small world!” Noah crossed his arms, his smile quizzical. “I just joined the cardiology department. What's his name?”
“Dr. Hans Dhingra.”
Noah scratched his chin. “I think I remember meeting him yesterday!”
“Collins?” Simi narrowed her eyes thoughtfully. “Come to think of it I have heard your name. You said Collins? Her thin mouth curved in a smile. ‘You are Dr. Collins, the new HOD?”
"Yes! The very same.’ Noah said, breaking a warm cookie in his mouth. ‘What a small world!’ He chewed the cookie quickly. “I'm sure we'll be seeing more of each other!” He said with more enthusiasm than he felt.
“Maybe more than we want to!” Simi shot back, sharing an easy laugh with him.
“These are really good!” Noah picked up another cookie not very thrilled at the idea of living next door to someone he worked with.
Just then a burly mover appeared on the side.
“I should be going!’ Simi handed him the tray. ‘If you need anything feel free to stop by. I put our business cards in the cookie. It has our cell numbers.” Simi waved.
“Will do. Thank you for the treats.” Noah hurried inside his new house.
Simi Mishra watched the young doctor and her husband's new boss jog in. A plan was already forming in her mind; A matchmaking sort of plan.
Danika pushed open the glass door that had several stickers on it, promoting everything and everyone from Pope to plumbers.
“Hey sister!” A beefy young man with tattoos of skulls and ladies covering both his arms from shoulder to forearm called out.
“Hi Param!' Danika came around the counter and joined him near the cash register. “So Dad and Uncle not in?” Danika asked, sliding her simple black purse in a slot under the register. She wasn't really asking but making conversation. Param put his 18 inch biceps and tats on display only when his father and Uncle were not coming to the store.
“Uhhh!” Param smirked, riding his tanned left cheek higher. “So, how is your day going sister?” He rested his elbow on a crate of fresh fruit.
Just like every other day since the accident, juggling and struggling! “The usual!” Danika remarked with her signature calm smile.
Param adjusted his dark brown beanie. “You remember how I saved you last month from those goons?”
Danika raised a brow and replied slowly. “Yes!”
Param was referring to some drunken idiots who had noticed her from the adjoining gas station as she waited at the bus station, late at night, trying to catch a bus to her apartment. It was post that incident that Danika had decided she needed a car. The drunken boys who seemed to be in their late teens had crowded her, making obscene gestures and shouting suggestive crude comments. One of them had snatched her cell as Danika had been about to call the cops. Thankfully, Param had heard the loud voices and come down from his apartment above the store. He had been accompanied by his three cousins and they weren't empty-handed. Thick baseball bats and their stocky appearance had rid Danika of her rowdy admirers. “I do remember that night! Thank you again!” She said, changing the paper roll in the printer.
Param waved his arm dismissively. “But you did say next day that you owe me big.”
“Okay!” Danika bit her lip, musing, trying to hide her tension. God! He's like a younger spoiled brother! He better not ask me to sleep with him. The thought terrified her even though Danika hid it well.
“So, sister, there is this cousin of my mine. He just got divorced and he is always crying like a girl.”
“Like a girl, Param?” Danika rolled her eyes.
“Okay, forget all that. It's just that he is very sad all the time. His mother, my aunt, is tired of him. She says his wife was the first woman to kick her son out of the house and she will be second.”
Danika smiled, relieved. Param was looking for some empathy for his cousin. “Sure, I can talk to him. I get it, I'm divorced too. Everyone gets over a divorce, some sooner than others.” She lowered her backside on the stool behind the register. “I'll talk to him, no worries!”
Param tugged his ear lobe and smiled cheekily. “Can you talk to him over dinner? Maybe wearing a nice dress? Maybe in a restaurant? Maybe-'
“Hold on! Are you asking me to go on a date with your cousin?” Danika blinked her eyes.
“Please sis! Please! Just one date. He is really nice! Please!” Param folded hands in front of her, his face pleading.
“If he still hasn't got over his ex-wife, how would going on a date help him?” Danika tried fighting with logic.
“He can see for himself that there are other options. More divorced fishes in the sea. He is a vegetarian though. Just saying!”
Yikes! “Param, I don't think it will really help.” Danika changed the topic. “Did you shelve the boxes of noodles and flour that came in last night?”
Param grabbed her hand. “Please sister, just one date! Please just take that dude out for dinner. I'll pay! Please!”
“I don't think I can.” Danika puckered her mouth and tugged her hand free.
“Please, please. I helped you get this job too, remember?” Param persisted, his expression like that of a puppy begging for a bone.
Danika swallowed her denial. “He's not a pervert or something like that right?”
Param chuckled at that. “Pervert? I would be surprised if he knows how babies are made.”
“Ugghh!” Danika slid off the stool.
“So, will you?”
Danika exhaled noisily. “Fine! Just one date and that’s it.”
Param clapped his hand. “Just one. Thank you. Thank you sis.”
“And then you and I are even?” Danika's tone was firm.
"Even steven!” Param flexed his bicep.
“Gross!” Danika smiled in spite of herself.
“Then can I confirm for this Friday?”
“Sure, why not?” Danika walked to the back office. She could see the boxes of flour and noodles stood stacked, one on top of another, unopened.
“Coolio! I will talk to my cousin and then get back to you. His name is Kiran.”
Danika nodded, tackling the first box.
“Oh, he's very handsome by the way.”
“That’s some consolation.” Danika slit the seal of the box open with a stubby knife.
She did not hear Param's muttered words under his breath. 'To his mother!'
“Yeah don't choose an expensive restaurant.” Param rubbed the back of his neck.
“I love drive-throughs.” Danika smiled
“He doesn't have a car.”
In for a penny, in for a pound. “Well, then I love vending machines I guess!” Danika replied taking out packets of the box.
“Would Pick up Stix work?”
Danika batted her eyelashes. “My dream restaurant!”
Param chuckled. “Oh yeah, FYI Kiran has a medical condition.”
Danika paused, her arms loaded with yellow and red colored packets of flour. “What medical condition?”
“You'll see!” Param replied with another cheeky look and walked out of the store.
Danika stared at the packets in her hand. “An evening with a handsome whiner and free food. Sure! Why not?” She smiled cheerily.
Close to seven that day, Danika used her key and entered her brother's house. The first person she saw was the one she was most fond of in the world, after her nieces of course!
'Working at the Indian store?' Hans asked as he sat on the dining table, scribbling something on the paper, a packet of potato chips on the table next to him.
“Yup!” She flopped on a chair next to him and yanked away the chips. “Hasn't Simi B put you on a diet?” Simi B was short for Simi Bhabhi.
“Don't come between me and my food.” Dr. Hans said, pulling a mini kit-kat from the pocket from his green scrubs.
“Where are Simi B and the girls?”
“Look at your watch!”
“7:10 pm. Aha! Kids bath time.” Danika pulled a chip and stuffed it into her mouth. Her brother's wife was a stickler for routine. A rooster could forget to crow but Simi B would still be up at 5:30 am on weekdays and 7:30 am on weekends.
“Shouldn't you be up there helping her, Bro?”
"I'm working!” Hans winked, unwrapping more of the candy. “You look tired. Why don't you crash here tonight?”
Danika stifled a yawn. “Thank you for the offer but I'm just going to make some dinner and head home.” She got up, stretching.
“You don't need to come every other night and cook dinner for us Dani. You eating or crashing here is not a burden.” Her brother was back to scribbling on the papers in front of him.
“Pshh!” Danika wrinkled her nose. “I’m cook for myself too. I do take that food home with me.’ Danika got to her feet. Sure, I didn't borrow any money from them but since loosing the full time job I have been eating here and using a lot of their stuff. “It only seems fair!” She murmured.
“Nothing! Simi B will be done soon!” Danika started with washing and peeling potatoes. Her brother was not the only one fearful of his wife. So was Danika. Simi with her perfect hair, perfect mannerisms, an ideal mom and a thorough professional, who still found time to be active member of several committees and charities, intimidated Danika. She was usually a quiet bobble head around Simi.
“So guess who is visiting us this weekend?” Hans muttered grabbing back the chips.
“Does her name start with the letter A?” Danika efficiently cut the potatoes and sprinkled them with olive oil and rosemary.
'Yeah. How did you guess? My lovely sister-in-law Anya!'
“She's sweet!” Danika teased. Anya was Simi B's stunning twenty seven year old sister. She was a happy-go-lucky woman who lived to please herself and was oblivious to everything else. However, her heart was in the right place. Currently, Anya was working as an event planner for a company in New Jersey. The only reason Simi did not pick on Danika's lack of a real career was because of her own sister's habit of changing jobs. Fortunately for Anya, she and Simi had rich parents who could afford their daughter's extravagant ways.
“It’s for a blind date! Simi and her matchmaking habits!” Hans grumbled.
“Nice!” Danika put the potatoes in the oven and then took out the rice. She saw the lights on in Mrs. Schneider's kitchen that was obscured partially by the overgrown foliage between the houses. “Oh! Did you know you have new neighbors Bro?”
Hans sauntered into the kitchen, his gut coming in before him. “Guess who our bloody new neighbor is? My new boss! Cardiology HOD!”
Danika paused, her mouth open. “The guy who took the position that should have been yours.”
“The one and the same!” Hans chucked the packet of chips in the trash bin.
“I hate him already!” Danika muttered washing the rice she.
“You hate who?”
Danika and her brother turned at the terse voice.
“Hi Simi B.” Danika greeted. “Should I warm the nuggets for the girls?”
“I'm going to kiss my clean babies!” Dr. Hans went up the stairs slowly.
Simi filled some water and sat on the dining table, her small sharp eyes steadily following Danika who worked in the kitchen. “So who do you hate?”
"Our next door neighbor for he took Bro's job.”
“There is nothing to take. Hans at his work is the same as he is in personal life - laid back and unambitious.” Simi was quick to point.
Danika bit her lip and did not react at her sister-in-law's dis of her brother. She's his wife. She has the right to slay or support him.
“Can you babysit the twins this Friday?”
Shoot! Danika bit her lip. “Ugh! I actually have some plans.”
“They can't be cancelled?” Simi was quick to retort.
Danika chewed the inner lining of her cheek. “Sorry, can't!”
“May I ask what these plans are?” It was not a request.
“Umm I have a date” Danika whispered the last word keeping her back to Simi.
“You have a date?” Simi sounded incredulous. “Who's the guy?”
“You don't know him.” Danika grimaced. I don't know him!
Danika drowned whatever else Simi was about to say in the sizzle of cumin seeds tossed carelessly in the heated cooking oil.
Noah unzipped his dark blue trousers and tucked in the pastel dress shirt. He studied his reflection in the mirror propped against the wall. 'Too formal!' He shrugged. 'Who cares?!' He ran a comb carelessly through his dark thick hair that had the tendency to curl at the nape. 'Why the heck did I agree?' He shook his head. 'It’s just a few hours, I can do this!'
Same time at the Dhingra residence
Is my lipstick too slutty? Danika puckered her mouth staring at her lips in the square mirror above the sink. What if the accountant tries to hit on me? She tore off some toilet paper and dabbed her mouth, reducing the bright crimson to a matte look.
She pinned her thick front locks at the back of her head showing more of her eyes and cheekbones. I can do this. It’s just a few hours! Danika frowned at her reflection. 'Ugh!'
When Noah came down the stairs in the quiet house, he was wearing jeans, dark blue Denver Broncos T-shirt and a leather jacket. Most of his wardrobe was still packed in one of the many boxes littering the room across the master suite. 'Wallet check, keys check, house keys check!' He shut the lights off and closed the front door behind him.
'Dammit!' A minute later Noah was back in the house. He switched on the kitchen light and grabbed the wine bottle off the counter and left again.
Danika came down the stairs and peeked in the kitchen and then the living room. All she saw was her nieces along with a baby sitter. “Hi Danika!”
“Hi Chloe!” Danika greeted the fifteen-year-old girl who lived a few houses away from them.
'Dani!' One her nieces stretched out her arms. Danika did not need another invitation. She picked up her niece and inhaled her baby powder smell as she dropped kisses on her chubby cheeks.
“Do you think you will be able to handle these two little munchkins?”
“You bet!” Chloe replied smiling widely, her cheeks laden with teenage acne.
“Cool!” Danika sat in between both her nieces and started playing with them. She was dressed practically for the date- Jeans and a leather jacket! “I’ll be nearby. You have my cell no?”
“Don't worry, Danika. You have fun! We will be fine, won't we?” Chloe tickled the tots who giggled, their chuckles cute and heartwarming.
Just then the doorbell rang. Danika felt new butterflies awaken in her stomach. Even though she knew this was not really a date yet she was nervous. It had been a long time since she had been alone with a man even across a table. “Probably for me!” Danika took a deep breath and walked toward the front door and bumped into someone at the end of the stairs. Simi B’s sister!
‘Your date or mine?' Anya asked, looking stunning in a red sheath dress, white fake fur jacket and red heels. Her long highlighted hair was styled in soft curls around her petite face and her make up was perfect- drawing attention to her eyes and wide mouth.
Self consciously, Danika tugged her simple floral blouse over her skinny jeans. “Not sure! You want to get the door?”
“No Dani!” Anya grin was impish. “I can't get the door. What if it is for me? One has to make an impression. My first impression should not be needy. I should actually make the entrance at the end. You can get it.”
Danika nodded. “By the way you look stunning!”
“I know that! And thank you!” Anya winked. Danika smiled and gave her a ‘thumbs up’.
“Hold on! Where’s the fire?” Danika trotted to the door as she heard another peal of the bell.
“I’m not ringing the bell again. I'll just go home!” Noah turned around, then paused. He heard the approaching steps from behind the door. A feminine silhouette appeared behind the stained glass door.
Noah schooled his expression into a friendly one. He gave his hair a final brush and waited.
Danika spotted a male shadow through the stained glass door. She straightened her hair and smoothed the front of her blouse and then reached to unlatch the hook. Smiling a friendly smile, she swung the door open to greet her date. “H-“
Danika froze! All breath seemed to exit her lungs when she saw who was standing at her brother's doorstep.
More to come. . .
To read chapters 1-4 please click on the link below;
Note from the Author
Hope you enjoyed reading this. My journey as an author started ten years ago at a very emotional point in my life. A journey that is on going! A big thanks to each and every one of you who has read my books and has been a part of this journey.
To celebrate a decade of writing I have decided to share with you all a brand new unpublished book of mine. Do not tell my agent or publisher. . . ssshhh!
‘Danika’ is an idea that took shape in my mind last year. I toyed with it for several months and then decided to pen it. However, the end evades me. The book is three fourth complete. I’m hoping you all will motivate me to finish it.
I would like to thank, Dola Basu Singh, a very able editor who has helped me make this book better.
All mistakes in this book are mine. Please remember this is not a finished product that has gone through several rounds of edits by various professionals but truly a WORK-IN-PROGRESS. By sharing this unpublished book, I’m making you a part of this book from the very beginning. See it as I write it 😊
I will be posting a chapter or two on my website www.varshadixit.com. After few weeks I will be sending the free chapters through my newsletter to my subscribers. So don’t forget to subscribe on my website.
Do spread the word to others who might be interested. Please do write back to me through website or my Facebook author page, or Twitter. All links have been provided at the end of this post.
Go with love wherever life takes you. Thank you for being a part of my journey and good luck in all that you do. Happy Readings! 😃
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