Maybe forever

        Prologue



December 31, 2013
Visakhapatnam

' This is suffocating' Avi thought as he scanned the perfectly arranged hall and perfectly clothed people around him.
The walls of the banquet hall of The Gateway Hotel, were covered with golden and silver antiques and mural paintings which Avi couldn't recognise . And white flowers decorated each and every corner and tables which in turn made the atmosphere ethereal. Soft music was playing in the background which is slowly speeding up to the hip hop songs as the time slowly ticked away and the new year is almost on their door step. The crowd , which included , the cream layer of the south Indian business industry, who were gathered to pose themselves as the potential and influential people to each other. Business man, politicians diplomats and even film stars, it felt a bit overwhelming to Avi, considering this was his first time attending an year-end party hosted by the renowned industrialist Krishna Reddy. When they, Avi and his business partner Arjun, got the official invitation for the party , they were ecstatic about it . The invitation felt like an affirmation for their success and it made him a bit alarmed too.

Past two years, Avi and Arjun had worked their asses off to make their start up company
Curry tree , which is an online food shop , which has its own kitchen with expert chefs and offers a great range of meal options ,and they deliver it right at the customer's doorstep in no time, on all days of the year. They made the company a reliable and trustworthy from the time of it's inception.

And after initial struggles , they made a steady progress in their venture and they won the start up of the year award a month ago. Certainly that lead them to this extravagant year end party of Reddy industries.
Avi and Arjun had reached the party early and unlike Arjun, who loved parties and free drinks whenever possible , Avi felt his initial enthusiasm wearing off bit by bit as the time passed and it felt more suffocating and forced to him.
As he grabbed a drink from one of the counter and sipped it while looking for Arjun who was busy flirting with a girl in a knee length dress, he shook his head as he was sure Arjun is in no mood to give a company and decided to take a walk outside the hall and get some fresh air.

As he walked out of the hall , to the open pavilion for the guests in the hotel, which further lead to the private beach of the hotel Avi let out a sigh of relief. It was another evident sign that Avi can't handle a crowd, they made him nervous and uncomfortable. He wondered weather he has agoraphobia as Arjun believed.
It was still hot outside but the cool breeze from the sea was comforting.
Avi unbuttoned his jacket and loosened his tie gazing the full moon and scattered stars , which looked like they are having an year end party too.
That thought brought a smile to his lips...this is definitely more enjoyable than Reddy's party. He murmured as he closed his eyes to feel the wind in his face.

'Yeah.. it's definitely better than Reddy's party '
A soft voice said near him and Avi nearly jumped out of his skin. He didn't notice anyone else there before, so the voice really startled him.
As he turned to his side , he saw the girl who was sitting in the bench. The area wasn't properly lighted, where she was sitting , may be that's why he didn't see her. He was annoyed that the calmness he felt a second ago was gone for good.

With a bit of irritation he studied the girl who was sitting on the bench. She was wearing a simple skirt with a denim jacket and her hair was in a careless bun. Since it's the private beach, definitely someone staying in the hotel..but the way she was referring about the party meant she was here to attend the party, but her attire didn't seem something that matched with the crowd he left a few minutes before. His brows creased in confusion and the girl laughed.

'Dont worry I am not a ghost. I am just like you , enjoying the new year Eve in peace. Come join me' she smiled as she patted the space near her in the bench.

Avi stood a moment before walking over and sitting down beside her.
They both sat in silence looking at the sea and enjoying the cool breeze on their faces.

From his peripheral vision, he studied the girl beside him. She looked young.. younger than him and her small heart shaped face made her look like a child, and the pale skin was lightened by the moonlight..loose strands were covering her features and it hindered him to look at her properly and he had a sudden urge to put those strands behind her ear so that he could see her better. Even though he could not see her fully, he sensed a familiarity in her features.

'Where have I seen her before?' Avi was still poking his brain to place her face in the directory of people he knew but she didn't seem to fit anywhere.

'Isn't it beautiful here? I mean the evening is more soothing without all the loud music and a bunch of show off people in the party??' She asked without facing him.

'Yeah it is ' Avi replied without hesitation and he sighed in defeat...he couldn't place her anywhere in his memory.

'This is your first time..? I mean, attending Reddy's year end party??' She probed again.

'Yeah.. how do you know?' he retorted this time and she chuckled in response.

' First time meeting all this show off people could be a bit suffocating' she tilted her head towards him searching his eyes for the confirmation.
As he nodded in response she giggled.

'I knew it' she smiled at him and for heaven's sake, it was one of the infectious smile he had ever come across in his life.

It took a moment Avi to pull himself together and frame a sane question.
'So this is your first party with Reddy's too?' he asked.

'No.. sadly it's not. It's my eighteenth party to be precise..' she replied softly.
Something in her tone suggested that she wasn't happy about it at all and Avi wondered what is she suggesting...
Eighteenth year end party means she is someone very important and she looked eighteen.. teen-ager.

Suddenly everything clicked in place in his head and he fully turned his face to look at her properly and the realisation hit him.

'So you are Vihani Reddy? Younger daughter of Krishna Reddy? Am I wrong? ' he fumbled with his words.
She drew a breath slowly and nodded in response and a heavy silence fell in between them.

Avi had seen her old pictures along with her family...on her birthday parties or vacationing abroad.. that's why she looked familiar. Now when he think about it , her birthday parties were held in the same day along with year end parties. But for the past few years there wasn't any pictures available in the media.
And she had changed from that little kid to a beautiful girl over the years.

' Vihani..tell me one thing why are you outside? Your entire family is inside and I believe it's your birthday tomorrow??' Avi felt like a paparazzi suddenly but he couldn't hide his curiosity and she chuckled in response.

Then with a deep sigh she opened her cola bottle in her hand, which Avi didn't notice before and took a sip.

'Too many flashy parties which are meaningless become boring after a point... and for my birthday..we don't celebrate them anymore. That's what I had asked to my dad as a gift for my fourteenth birthday. No more birthday celebrations and pictures of me in the media. I just wanted to keep myself low key. It might sound like a privileged kid whining but that's the truth, and I was successful too. How did you recognise me?
She raised her eyebrows at him.

Avi really wanted to dodge the question if possible. The truth was he was an admirer of Krishna Reddy's success and his new ideas in each field always grabbed his attention. He used to read all the news about him and his business world that he could recite almost every detail of his life either personal or professional. But reveling that much might give him a face of a secret stalker.

' I kind of admire your dad. He is my role model..so I have seen the pictures of your family a lot actually..' he said while glancing at her surreptitiously. That sounded pretty normal he told himself.

'Oh.. ' she nodded in acknowledgement.
' Well...he is good at what he is doing. But don't copy him in terms of his personal life.' She said as she took another sip of her drink and the bitterness in her voice didn't go unnoticed by Avi.

He wanted to ask further but they were practically strangers. So he decided to stay silent.

'Industrialist Krishna Reddy is great but as a dad and husband he is not that great..so become someone greater than my dad' she continued and winked at him with a grin and for the second time Avi felt like he couldn't get enough of her smile.

'Do you want some? ' she held her cola bottle towards him as she caught him staring at her.
He immediately took the bottle to save himself from the embarrassment and took a quick sip of the drink and the content inside almost choked him.
And Vihani laughed to heart's content.

' What is in the bottle?' he asked as he swallowed the bitter liquid.

' That's whiskey..got from dad's office' she winked again and Avi was out of words.

'Hey... it's my eighteenth birthday soon and I am allowed to drink' she smiled herself.

Dont give me that look...I just wanted to taste it but it's so bitter..yuck. I don't want it anymore. It's all yours. '
Avi smiled despite of being shocked for a moment.

As the time slowly ticked away Avi knew he should go back but a part of him wanted to stay there so he stayed as the fireworks lighted the sky of the Visakhapatnam announcing the world that it's a new year.

They watched the fire crackers colouring the sky in gold and silver and wished each other happy new year.

As he sipped the remaining bitter drink, Avi got a hold of her hand and turned her towards him.

'Happy birthday to you Vihani. You are a free citizen of this country from today onwards..' he said and she bowed her head in response and laughed.

'Thank you so much...but where's my gift?' she asked as she turned her attention to the sky again.
Avi looked at her baffled. They barely know each other but she was behaving like they were friends. Avi was at a loss again.
His discomfort must have been visible because she laughed again.

' Don't worry I was kidding... but I gifted myself something. I will show you' she removed her jacket quickly revealing the low cut back of her top and there it was . She had inked herself with a sign of 'om'. He blinked to get a proper look but she swiftly turned towards him.

' Dad hates tattooing. But I am a free person and I am rebelling...I guess' she said ruefully.

'But why the sign of 'om' ? Avi quired.
He was sure now that they both were drunk. Whatever they were discussing is not a conversation people share when they meet each other for the first time.

'hey...you don't know that...? This symbol is a reminder to do what comes naturally. It represents breath. The first and last thing we do in our life. And I want to follow this natural way of living. Simply breath and feel that I am alive' She said.

'That's quite meaningful Vihani ' Avi shook his head in a way to appreciate her choice.

'Please... don't call me Vihani..call me Vinny... Vihani doesn't suit me' she said as she put her jacket on.

'Like Winnie the Pooh?.' Avi smirked and she laughed.

' That is different...but much better than Vihani..and I love that cartoon. ' she admitted and her phone started ringing. As she took the call, Avi knew it was time to say goodbye to her.
As he expected, Vinny was telling someone she will be there in few minutes.

'That was my brother...I came here for his sake actually. Now I need to go. It was nice to meet you. And if my dad is your role model, it's high time you join the party and make the valuable contacts....they always come handy.. that's something my dad often say. Since you are attending the party I am sure that you are someone with potential. Only those gets the invitation..' She gave him a small smile.

They stayed there for a few more minutes and Avi thanked her for her company. He had actually enjoyed being with her and it came to an end so soon that Avi wanted her to stay a bit more.

She waved her hand in a goodbye note and started towards the narrow path that leads to the front side of the hotel. Avi stood there , rooted to his spot, looking at her retreating figure and sighed thinking about joining the party again.

Suddenly she turned towards him and called.
'Hey...... I forgot to ask your name..
But I think I will get to know that in the future. Become someone who doesn't need an introduction when we meet again..' she winked with a smile.

' Yes ma'am' Avi bowed his head in a mocking manner and smiled at her with amusement.
She waved again and walked away.
While Avi retraced his way back to the hall , he felt like she had set a challenge for him. Suddenly he wanted to become that someone , who doesn't need an introduction when he gets to meet her again.

It is pure stupidity Avi knew but it was kind of alluring and motivating at the same time.

May be...we will meet again...' he said to himself and walked back to the banquet hall with a smile in his lips.

***

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