“Some more bread, ma'am?”
“And shall I refill your glass of wine?”
Not right now, thank you. Perhaps in some time.
The waiter walks away and Sunanda notices a slight swagger in his hips, evidently the young man is very aware of how attractively taut his uniform is. She smiles to herself, imagining how many secret corridor rendezvous this one would’ve had with the rich bored housewives that frequent this fancy restaurant.
The smirk fades away though as she looks up to find that the observer is also an observee! A man at the bar raises his glass of single malt to her, a twinkle in his eyes. She can feel his penetrating gaze bore into her heart even from this distance. He’s wearing a steel grey pinstriped suit with a crisp white open collar, looking sharp enough to close multi-billion dollar deals in a boardroom. But also with an air of nonchalance to imply that he could just as well be visiting his darling grandmother. He exudes an air of rich luxury, but Sunanda can make out that it’s a cleverly put-together look. She spends enough time with clothes at her boutique to know the approximate price tag of an outfit simply by the fall of the fabric. Not to say that this high-street jacket is not falling just right on those well sculpted shoulders. It feels rude to not acknowledge that electric smile and so she instinctively raises her almost empty glass of Bordeaux in response.
No! Look away, quickly!
She can only imagine how pathetic she must appear to him. It’s 9.30pm on a Friday night, and she has spent more than an hour at this this table-for-two, holding out hope for that elusive date that is obviously not going to show. And now she’s imagining a connection with a man who just happens to be looking in her direction across a crowded room as she checks out the waiter’s backside.
She picks up her phone to check once again that this was the agreed time and place that her friend had confirmed for the date with the best-friend of her college mate who was apparently ‘a dream-boat with killer abs and a bazillion-dollar smile.’ He sounded too good to be single, but Sunanda was so tired of the failed right-swipes that lead to nothing that this relatively safer bet of a friend of a friend (of a friend) had seemed to be a good idea. At the time.
A deep sigh escapes her as she resolves to give up and call it a night.
“May I join you?” says the High-Street-suit man in a baritone that she’s only ever heard in the movies. His dark brown eyes are soft, and up close she finds them impossible to resist. Perhaps it’s the wine on an empty stomach that is filling her with this unusual boldness.
Ah! What the hell.
“Sure!” she says out loud. “Although I’m not planning to stay for long. Just until I finish this glass.”
They get into an easy conversation, both apparently having been stood up by their respective dates. Arun has a refreshing laugh and an uncanny knack for keeping the conversation going. At some point, they agree to share the meal together, “Might as well eat since we’re already here!”
In between the easy flirting and sideways glances, Arun marvels at how comfortable she is with her work. Comfortable is an understatement. Her small but successful boutique in the chicest part of the city is all that Sunanda has dreamt about since she first held a scissor and fabric in her tiny toddler hands. His mundane job with a corporate house can clearly do with an upgrade, and there are hints of a passionate something underneath it all.
Arun is a great listener and they end up talking long after the dessert has been cleared. Sunanda can't remember the last time she felt so comfortable sharing so much with a stranger. She is delighted at how wonderfully the night turned from a failed experiment at a setup to such an exceptionally pleasant evening. Didn’t need that friend of a friend (of a friend) afterall!
As they walk out of the restaurant she turns to him, wondering if she’s bold enough to take this further.
“Alright then,” says Arun, straightening up and extending his hand. Formal.
“It’s been nice to meet you, wish you a good life and better luck with your next date!” There may have been a slight hint of regret in his eyes, but the rest of his body language is clearly distant.
She feels the jolt, but recovers quickly enough to hide it well. Had she totally misread the interest? He was cutting this off here and now. Did she come on too strong? She tries to read his expression but he’s avoiding meeting her eyes. He seems to have switched off as soon as they stepped out of the restaurant.
“Sure,” she responds with a firm handshake and what was intended to be mock formality, “thank you for the company!” She waits for the punchline, but there is none. A casual salute-wave-off, he turns around and walks away.
Sunanda’s phone is heavy in her hand, waiting to save a number that never gets offered. Shell shocked, she can only console herself. The sparks she felt were at best temporary, and at worst imaginary.
What a disaster!
If she was so bad at reading signals, then perhaps she needed a break from searching for a love life. She was done with friends setting her up with no-shows, and she was definitely done with hoping for chance encounters with strangers to turn into something magical.
Her life, it turns out, was not like the movies she loved to binge watch on the weekends.
“I have a confession.”
Sunanda is restocking the shelves, and takes a second to recognise the warm voice that she had secretly longed to hear again. She turns around to find Arun standing in her store with a self-assured smile on his face.
What was he doing here after that embarrassing cold rejection he had handed out to her last week?!
“How did you find me, and why are you here?” her voice is sharper than she’d intended it to be.
Both hands now raised in a mock surrender, he takes a step back and continues. “Let’s start over. My name is Arun Khurana and I’m a private investigator. I can show you my credentials if you allow me to reach into my pocket.”
Is this a joke?
“This isn’t a movie!” she snaps at him, “Don’t be so dramatic.” She realises the irony of her own voice screaming this at him, two octaves higher than it should be.
“Okay, okay. No jokes, but I do need to talk to you. There's a lot to explain,” he continues calmly, “Should we talk in private though? Let’s go for a walk...”
She looks around the store at the few customers who are now staring at them. She nods at her sales girl to take over for, and walks out of the store. Sunanda knows that she’s huffing and making a scene, but she can’t seem to stop. It was one thing to accept that he wasn’t interested in her romantically but showing up like this at her place of work? Looking all charming and innocent, wearing another perfectly cut suit that was clearly meant to highlight his toned body. A private investigator? What kind of a sick joke was this guy trying to play! How did he even find her? Was he a stalker? Should she have called security instead of walking out in the open with this stranger?
“Facts only,” she hears him say as they pace around the block. He’s maintaining a respectful distance in his immaculate Italian shoes, and she’s making sure to stick to open streets and not stare too long into those brown eyes. “I work for Mr TK Roy. He asked me to dig out any skeletons in your closet and since your social media profiles are conspicuous by their absence, I had to set up a date to observe you in person. Lucky for me, the punk I hired to spend the evening with you decided to stand us both up. Apparently, he had more important things to do than enjoy a free meal with a beautiful woman.”
“I don’t know anyone called TK Roy. This sounds too bizarre, you’re just... ”
“Wait, you can’t be serious,” he interrupts her thought spiral. “TK Roy... Owner of Roysons Enterprises? The largest business conglomerate in the region! Of course, you know of him.”
“Oh!” the realisation dawns on her, of course she knew of the company. But wait. “Why would he want information on me? Why does anyone what 'information' on me?! I’m just a regular person!”
“Well, his daughter apparently loves your store and wanted to hire you as a personal stylist,” Arun continues, ignoring her dumbstruck expression. “And considering the high profile of the family, it is standard procedure to whet any potential consultants with a thorough background check. Enter - yours truly.”
“Wait...so you set up that date?” Her tone is ice, she tells herself that the clothes don’t make the man no matter how perfectly they accentuate his muscular arms. “And then decided to spend the meal with me yourself?! That means everything you told me that day was a lie. Your entire life history... you made everything up?” He had been playing her all along. She’s starting to wonder how she could’ve been so naïve!
“Technically,” says Arun, “I didn’t actually share any untruths with you. In fact, I would barely call it a life history...”
Sunanda thinks back to their conversation and realises that apart from a few sketchy details about growing up in another city and a few hints here and there about his boredom with work, she didn’t know any specific details about Arun’s past. Or even his present. How conveniently he had kept her talking through the meal without revealing anything concrete about himself!
She stares him down now. “Well, technically, I opened up my heart to you and watched you walk away without so much as a backward glance. And now what? You've come here to gloat about how well your investigation went?! Have you come to hire me on behalf of your employer? Is that your task for the day?”
He shakes his head resignedly and a world of woe escapes from his breath. She had let her heart cloud her judgement once already, she wasn’t going to fall for this again. Her mind was screaming for the honest truth to be able to trust him.
“The truth is that I resigned from the assignment earlier this week. I let Mr Roy know that perhaps this personal investigation was not really my cup of tea. Of course, he still appreciates my penchant for due diligence so we’re trying to work out other assignments, but I'll have to wait and see if there's any future work for me there,” he shrugs and adds almost as if he didn’t want to say it out loud, “It wasn’t ethical for me to continue to investigate... you.”
They’ve stopped moving, she notices. But her mind is reeling. This wasn’t normal. She wasn’t possibly going to fall for this. For this...
What was she thinking?
Sunanda dares to look into his eyes. They have the same vulnerability and warmth that had drawn her to him across the bar that night.
Maybe she was still telling herself not to fall for this. Surely, she could see that he had already fallen. They're barely a step away from each other now.
“Why not?” she hears a flutter of hope in her voice.
He responds by pulling her in to a kiss that she won't forget for the rest of her life.
Ah! Bloody hell.
Her life, it turns out, was going to be exactly like the movies she loved to binge watch on the weekends after all.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Also worth noting: the title is exactly the formula I suggest people use. It's short, isn't blatantly referenced in the story and doesn't spoil the story before I even click to read it. The title is 95% of what makes me choose a story to read and maybe 5% (more or less) is the author's name. If your title is boring or overly wordy, it gets filtered out because I got your story's body in the title. Don't spoil the surprise! If your first paragraph is the hook, your title is the bait! This is how you bait!
Hey Nupur... story is actually very well written and narrative seems quite smooth... in days gone by one could refer to a certain genre as "chicklit" without being patronizing, offensive or worse an MCP... some of the most readable Indian fiction fell into that category...Zoya Factor or A Piece of Cake are good examples... your story reminded me of those.
Thank you, first of all for taking the time to read and comment :) And yes, I was going for exactly a RomCom/Chickflick vibe with this storyline. As a writer, it means a lot to be able to evoke memories of beloved stories! I'm glad you liked it.
The worst part about judging for Reedsy is seeing a great piece that no one seems to notice. I walked in expecting the usual dirty slush from "writers" who have no clue how to make a short story work; or any story, I'd suspect. Frankly, my mood had you set up for failure. Not only did you win me over with a good fundamental for a story in classic 3 act structure, natural or intended, but you tied everything up nicely for a self-contained story that could easily have been expanded into a delightful novella in the vein of You've Got Mail or so...
Wow, I’m so glad to read such positively high praise! Thank you :) I enjoyed putting this one together, and it’s nice to know the small things that I tend to overthink about - like the title - are actually done right.
There's no such thing as overthrowing, just undergoing. You can think about something forever, but if you don't commit to doing something, all you've done is waste time.