It was just another day for Meera at work. She had loads of work and had just received a last minute invite to attend a mandatory training on Computer Database Management. Meera was a junior Software Analyst at Terasoft, an emerging software giant which had its head office at New York and branches all over the country. The company had recently set up its base at Miami and it was here that Meera worked.
Meera considered herself lucky to have bagged the job. She loved writing software codes. A complex piece of code was like a brain teaser, a puzzle which she loved cracking. She eagerly enrolled to all the training sessions provided by Terasoft Academy team. But today she didn't have the usual enthusiasm. She had quite a few pending items on her plate. She saved her unfinished work and left her workstation.
The invite did not say who the trainer was. Just as she entered the training room, she bumped into someone. She smiled lightly but the "someone" did not. He fixed his gaze on Meera. It was almost uncomfortable. She had never seen him before.
"Sorry", Meera whispered shyly, but he still did not smile. And yet, he did not look like an idiot.
Meera moved towards one of the empty seats and found that the "someone" was actually the trainer. He moved towards the podium and took a brief introduction of everyone in the room. Next, he introduced himself. He was Neil, a senior software developer at the New York Headquarters and was here at Miami to guide the staff and train them in software nuances, if required.
And then he smiled.
Oh my God! What a smile, It was childlike. So sweet and innocent. said Meera in her head.
Neil started his session and Meera could not concentrate on anything else other than him. His gaze was intent as he addressed the audience. He smiled briefly whenever he paused. Meera noticed a few perspiration drops on his forehead.
It was not that hot inside. Was he nervous ? she wondered.
Neil displayed a few slides and explained about Computer Databases, answering a few queries every now and then.
But Meera could still not concentrate on anything he or the others were saying. He was damn too cute. He seemed more handsome to her each passing minute. Meera realised that she had a huge crush on him. She had had crushes before but they took her nowhere. Nothing good ever come out of them.
Meera could not help take her eyes off Neil and suddenly she heard her mind chatter.
"This guy is way too handsome and my senior. I am a junior, am short, have messy hair, and am bespectacled. I stand no chance. He might be married or engaged, or would at least have girl friend. Guys this handsome did not deserve to be single. No, he could not be single. But what does that matter to me. Of course I am thinking nonsense."
Meera tried to break her trail of thoughts. She was not like that. She had always been the sincere and studious girl who always had serious relationships if any. In fact her last relationship broke because she wanted to move to the next level and get married but her ex did not. She had always been the level headed and practical girl.
Meera had never considered herself so shallow. But what this, that she was experiencing right now. It was pure and unadulterated desire. Desire for a man who she hardly knew. "This is not me." Her head screamed. "I don't do flings".
But as she gazed him, the more she was drawn towards him.
"I need some air." Meera thought. "I need to get up, take a walk and clear my head."
As soon as she decided to excuse herself from the training, Neil called out to her. It was as if he had read her mind.
"Maam, are you paying attention?"
"Uh..I am." said Meera, almost stuttering.
"Okay, so tell me what you think about the Query command I just put up on the slide."
Meera looked blankly at the slide. This has never happened to her. She had always paid during all her classes. Such things had happened to others but never to her. Never.She was embarrassed.
"See. I told you. You were not paying attention to what I saying. Found something more interesting to think about? “said Neil.
Meera almost hated him that instant. He may be hot and sexy but he was no way a decent man. He had deliberately singled her out and was actually humiliating her. Why, she could even see him smile mischievously.
"Maam, I hope I can have your attention for the rest of the session." quipped Neil.
Meera sat down, opened her notes copy and jotted down what Neil was saying without looking at him. She did not want to look at anybody for that matter. She wanted to become invisible.
After the training session, everyone was asked to fill the feedback form for the session and the trainer. Meera did not want to fill it but had to. She was anyways little short of mentioning what a jerk the trainer was. She handed over the form to Neil and he smiled at her. The very same, childlike smile.
This time Meera decided not to smile back. Meera considered the rest of her day a mess just like her hair were. Her fellow colleague cum friend Sheena came by and asked "Meera, Did you have your session? How was the trainer? I have heard that he is some hot shot."
He was indeed hot. Meera smiled but then she also remembered her humiliation.
"Hot my foot! He is a jerk." said Meera.
"I would like to date him. He has his way with women. My friend working for the Tampa branch said he was quite a success with the girls there. I suppose he has been sent by the top management to survey the branches." said Sheena enthusiastically.
"Hmm..." said Meera and acted bored.
"He’s my type though. Not your type." said Sheena smilingly.
"Excuse me what is my type?" said Meera
"The serious, sincere, loyal and boring guys are your type. Don't mind me Meera but that's how you are too. Like minded people suit each other."
"Dear, I beg to differ. Haven't you heard that opposites attract? " Meera replied somewhat sarcastically.
Meera went back home but was rather heavy on emotion. Was she really as boring as Sheena had pointed out?
"What’s wrong with me. Why does others opinion of me bother me. It has never had.
I am myself. I may wear glasses and may have messy hair but I have made my own way. I have a good job and I am studying to hone my software management skills. My parents love me and are proud of me. Sheena would never know. All she has cared about was male attention.But perhaps is it not so bad to receive male attention."
Meera undressed and headed towards the shower. Neil face bothered her throughout her bath. His child like smile, intent eyes, the perspiration drops on his forehead, everything was fresh in her memory.
In the bed that night, as soon as she closed her eyes, she saw Neil. He was so real that she could actually smell him. He kept on repeating his stances about Database Management, smiling at her every now and then.
Suddenly Meera felt sharp brightness. Colours Red, Orange and Yellow blinded her and she could not see anything.
She opened her eyes to find that it was morning already and that she had forgotten to draw the curtains last night. Waking up, Meera realised that it was a Saturday and thankfully she would not have to face Neil or Sheena today.
She decided to call up her Mom.
Mom was happy to receive the call but started her usual tirade of questions.
Is everything okay ? Are you not well ? Did anything go wrong? What did you have for breakfast ? and so on.
"Everything is fine Mom. Can’t I call you just like that?"
Mom did not say anything for a moment and then chuckled.
"You are growing up fast dear girl but I am still your mother and I know you better. Now tell me what’s going on."
"Nothing I just...I just wanted to hear your voice."
"My brave little girl, you take so much on yourselves. Relax a little. Everything is fine now. You have a good job. Papa is doing well. His health has improved so much since the last few months. Thanks for all your support. But seriously, you should chill out a bit."
Chill out a bit ?
"But Mom. I have so much to do. So much to achieve."
"Life goes on its own pace my dear. Do enjoy the beauty of life wherever and whenever you get a chance. At the end of day, it does not matter how much money you have earned or what your social position is, but how many moments and memories you have created."
Meera thought again, Was she indeed rushing ?
She fixed her coffee, had some bagel for breakfast and got ready to leave for the orphanage.
St. Mark's Children Home was at a stone’s throw away distance from her apartment complex and it was where she devoted most of her free time. She loved the children and they loved her. The happiness she got by being with the children: observing them, helping them learn gave her immense satisfaction and joy.
As she entered the entrance lobby of the Children's Home, she saw him. It was him indeed. He looked so dignified. He was dressed in black suit and wore shades. He looked smashing. And at that moment Meera wanted to go hide again.
"Chin up Meera. You are here to see the children. You are doing no wrong." She stressed to herself.
Meera tried to pass by quickly, but Neil did not fail to spot her and called out: "Hey, Miss Inattentive. How are you?"
Unfortunately, He had not only grown handsomer but more arrogant as well. Thought Meera.
"Meera." she said. "My name is Meera."
"You have an interesting name." said Neil
"My grandpa was an Indologist. Meera was an Indian saint and poet." said Meera.
"The name suits you. Not that you are a saint but you are poetry personified." said Neil in a deep baritone voice. Meera did not know what to make out of that statement.
"So what are doing here? Are you here to volunteer?" asked Meera
"Yeah. You can say that." said Neil and added after a pause
" Meera, Can I ask you something?"
"Do you always dress up like that? Baggy shirts, jeans, spectacles. Why do you hide?"
"What??" exclaimed Meera.
"Why do you want to appear inconspicuous?"
"This is the most arrogant thing anyone has said to me. I am more than my dress."
"Yes. So you are. You are much more than that." and he suddenly reached out for her hand and caressed it.
"These delicate fingers, those heavy curls, big bright eyes and the fire to do something. Not everything can be hidden." Said Neil huskily.
Meera was dazed. His touch was electrifying. His caress was sensual. A sudden realization dawned on her and she jerked her hand.
"Excuse me, But I have to leave, my class is waiting."
Damn him, now I cannot concentrate on the class. thought Meera and she proceeded towards one of the make shift classrooms where she taught computer graphics to children.
Meera managed the class somehow, brushing aside thoughts of Neil and how he had taken her hand in his.
As she was going back, she anticipated his presence. Would he still be there ?
There were butterflies in her stomach.
And she found him outside, leaning beside the black BMW. He must have seen her behind those dark shades and started approaching her. She kept on walking, maintaining her gait. But then, she saw a tall young blonde in a short but tasteful dress walk towards Nell. "Neil" she exclaimed and hugged him. Neil was visibly delighted.
"They both look good together" thought Meera and moved towards where she had parked her car.
"Hey Meera." someone called out her name. It was Jack, the manager of the Children's Home. Meera and Jack had been friends since long and Jack had been good to her.
"Hey Jack!" said Meera somewhat less enthusiastically.
"What happened Meera? You are not your usual self." said Jack. He had some strange way of decoding other people's facial expressions.
"I am Okay." said Meera trying to smile.
"Meera listen, I have good news. We have found funding for home. "
"WOW. That is great. I am so happy."
"What’s more, the donor has asked us to draw a list of volunteers and has asked me to thank all of them by paying them a token of appreciation. This is for you." said Jack, drawing a cheque from his breast pocket.
"What? But Jack, You know I don’t do it for money. I never would. I love the kids here. You see, seeing them smile makes my day. I get repaid many times more. I understand we are lucky to have this generous donor but I cannot accept this amount. Please add this amount to Lucy’s salary."
Lucy was one of the few staff members at the orphanage. She was a single mom and helped with cleaning and cooking.
"I would rather that you have this amount. It’s only a fraction of what you have contributed. The children can't thank you enough."
Meera was still reluctant and confused.
Jack studied Meera for a moment and then said. "Meera what are you doing tomorrow evening?"
Meera looked at him and said absentmindedly." Uhhh.. The regular stuff. Classes and all."
"Meera, would you have dinner with me? There is a nice Italian place at the downtown."
Jack had said without looking at Meera. He was visibly nervous.
It took a minute for Meera to digest it all.
Jack was all a girl could want. He was handsome, gentlemanly. Meera had always liked him and would have jumped at the option of dating him. But today, nothing felt right. She could not date him when all she could think about was Neil.
Meera said “I am sorry Jack. I have plans. Perhaps, next time."
"Of course Meera. Next time."
Meera mused at the recent happenings. Presence of Neil and his purported Lady love at the orphanage, Windfall for the orphanage due to a mysterious donor. Jack's asking her out. All of it seemed weird and sudden.
Back her home she had a hot bath, cooked pasta and fixed her coffee. After her dinner, she made a few notes for her class tomorrow and she retired to the bed. However she could not sleep. She kept on tossing inside the bed. Images of the Neil and the hot blonde filled her. She got up and picked up a book but she heard voices in her head.
"The serious, sincere, loyal and boring guys are your type. Don't mind me Meera but that's how you are too. " Sheena had said.
"Do you always dress up like that?" Neil had said.
She closed her book, took out her diary and wrote:
How to ignore Neil.
1. Pretend that he does not exist in reality. He is just a figment of my imagination. A hero of a mills and boon novel I had read in past.
2. Get busy: Study, work hard at office, Read books, Scrub the floor, do groceries.
3. Get preoccupied with yourself. This is another sure shot way to get over someone. Whenever, I have a hopeless crush, this is what I do. Obsession with someone can be replaced with obsession with oneself. I will divert my attention from him to me. I will start thinking about how I look. What I have done in past. How my future looks like etc. Its going to about me, me and me . And not him, him and him.
The morning after Meera got up and found that she had a headache.
“I am thinking just too much. I need a break. But Oh, I have to attend the class at the Institute today.”
Meera was doing a part time course in software management and her classes were held mostly on the Sundays. She decided to skip her class. She was already ahead of the curriculum in any case. She had to en-cash the cheque she had received yesterday and decided to indulge in shopping.
It was a bright sunny day and it cheered up Meera a bit. She was able to collect herself.
She en-cashed the cheque and shopped for the kids. She bought bright lunch boxes, backpacks, bottles and books.She saw a fashion store across the road and decided to explore it.
An old but sharp looking lady greeted her.
"Hello, My dear I am Eva. How may I assist you?”
"Uh.. I was looking for a few fashionable dresses."
"Hmmm...Let me have a good look at you" Her gazed accessed Meera.
"Child you are beautiful. You need a few decent dresses and a better frame for your glasses."
"But I have always worn these." said Meera.
"But that does not mean you always should. Come let me show you around" said Eva cheerfully.
In the next 3 hours , Meera was shown 27 dresses, she tried 21 and bought 12. Eva had taken it to herself to get a makeover for Meera and helped her buy some makeup, accessories and lingerie. She even went head a suggested a hair stylist for Meera.
"I am tried Eva. I think I have shopped enough."
"No way. Let the folks back at work see what you are."
"I am what I am. What I do. What I think. Not what I wear and how I look." said Meera.
"That’s true dear . And at this age, I cannot agree more with you. But don't let your looks limit you. Explore the world and Chill. You think too much."
Eva sounded like her Mother, Meera smiled. She liked her. She hugged Eva and started for the salon Eva had suggested.
As she was coming out of the Fashion Store, she saw a black BMW pass by. Was it the same BMW, Neil was leaning on to yesterday?
I am thinking too much indeed. Meera chided herself.
At the salon, Meera found another mature woman who seemed as the same age as Eva.
"Hello girl. I am Lisa." she smiled.
Meera told her that she was here on Eva's recommendation.
"Hmm.. , you have lovely curls I would not like you to do away with them. But I can understand that they are unmanageable at times and give you a clumsy look. Let’s do one thing. I will straighten your hair at the scalp but retain the curls at towards the tip. That would give your hair a neat look and also give them a bounce. "
Meera did not know much about hair styles and always wore her hair they way they were. She agreed with whatever Lisa had said. The results were astounding.
The Next day, Meera dressed up in a white sleeve-less shirt, and a black pencil skirt. She wore stilettos and some make up. She looked into the mirror and smiled at the new her.
As she walked into the office, she turned heads.
Sheena came rushing towards her. "Meera, you look just WOW. What happened to you?"
Meera gave her a naughty smile. "I thought I will prove you wrong Sheena. Tell me, do I look boring?”
"No No No.... You look absolutely sensational."
As Meera was filling her coffee Mug at the dispenser at the break out area. She heard a deep male voice call out her name.
Meera turned and found Neil smiling at her. "Miss Inattentive. You seem to be receiving quite some attention lately. Did my words hurt you? " Before Meera could answer he added gloomily: "Seems like I am my own worst enemy. I created more competition for me."
"Excuse me? What competition?" said Meera.
"You are on everyone's mind Meera. Don't tell me no one has asked you out today. Or you did not receive any compliments."
"That mister, is not of your business."
"I would like to make that my business. How about having a coffee with me after work."
He seemed to be so sure of himself and Meera hated that. A part of her wanted to rejoice and say yes to him. Another part warned her to stay away from the compulsive flirt.
"I am busy. I have to go to the orphanage post work."
"Come on its just coffee." emphasised Neil.
"Still" said Meera sharply. "I would prefer having it with a more pleasant and less arrogant company.”
Back at her desk, she found Sheena waiting for her.
Sheena asked curiously. "Whats up? Is Neil hitting on you?"
"Whatever gave you that idea?" asked Meera.
"I saw you two together at the break out area." said Sheena.
"We were just chit chatting. How about you? Haven't you tried to charm him?"
"Oh but he has eyes only for you. I have seen him looking at you. He looks like a man in love"
"Love. Do you think he understands love? Wait, you said he has hooked up with many women at Tampa." said Meera.
"Yeah. That's what I had heard. Perhaps, its not love. He is simply dying to get you in his bed."
"Whatever. But I am not that easy."
"Not easy. But, definitely enticing. And Man love challenges." said Sheena philosophically.
The rest of the week Meera ignored Neil, who was everywhere around her and tried hard to catch up with her. He was at the orphanage, at the break out area, and attended common training sessions. The sessions she was sure he did not quite require.
As it is, Meera was having a hard time ignoring Neil. He was hard to be ignored with his raw masculine aura and his cute smile. Meera was often lost in his thoughts. Her plan which she jotted down in her diary on the weekend was not working. On top of it all, she was receiving some unwanted attention, had been asked out by many of her colleagues in the last few days.
Thankfully Jack did not ask her out on date again. He seemed busy arranging a thanksgiving trip for the children. For some strange reason he seemed cautious around her. Or was he cautious around Neil who was always around her?
The next week at office as Meera sat on her desk, she saw a smiling Neil sitting beside her.
She was confounded by his presence at the adjoining workstation.
"What are you doing here?" She asked.
"I am checking what you are doing? You are just too busy for your own good. Seems, like you have no work life balance. However, I will take care of that. This is what I am here for. To report recommendations and concerns about the Miami office. Now sit down and tell me what keeps you so busy." said Neil cheerfully.
"What the ..?"
Beth, Meera's project Manager interrupted them. "Meera. I hope you have met Neil. He has been working with the teams across the office and is trying to figure out what processes can be improvised and how. I trust you to give him a brief of our project and share any data he requires."
"This is what you do for a living? Put your nose into other people's work." said Meera in a low tone after Beth left.
"Hehe. You may perceive it that way. But it’s always good to have an unbiased feedback for your work. The other, un-associated person can often see what you are not able to." explained Neil.
The rest of the day, Meera explained what she and her team did. She was usually nervous around Neil but then, this time it was about her work and it was something she believed in. Something, she was good at. She explained the different data streams to Neil with a certain passion which was hard to be ignored. Even Neil was moved.
He asked a few questions about the project and Meera was more than glad to explain him.
"You really love your work Meera. I am impressed." said Neil.
"It is no big deal. This is what I do. However, I must say that you are not bad yourselves. You have good knowledge of data warehousing and data mining aspects of software management."
"Thanks. Does that mean I am good?"
"However, Meera there are a few things you can do better. You have in depth knowledge and a drive to learn and do more. You implement things well. But you lag in documentation and planning. Why, you should use the ERWIN tool to draw high level design for Data Modelling for your project."
"Oh I am trying to do that. I am learning to use ERWIN."
"On your own?"
"No. I am doing a course."
"When? You have full time job."
"Oh, I study part time."
"That explains why you are always in a rush. You work hard at job. You Study. You volunteer for the children's home. Meera you would burst one day. Slow down." said Neil.
Meera didn’t reply. She hadn’t expected such an outburst from Neil. He had spoken with emotion. It was better to think of him as a handsome and sexy but insensitive and arrogant jerk.
Neil proceeded: "Meera. Why don’t you apply for sabbatical? You are smart, intelligent and hard working. Apply for the Wilson scholarship. Mr Wilson, the company head would fund your education. You can come back and join us when you are done with your studies."
Meera sighed. "I have heard about it. But only 10 % of the applicants get the scholarship."
"That is no excuse. Apply it today." said Neil sternly.
"I will think about it."
Meera looked up to Neil who was staring her and didn’t move away his gaze. It was the same unnerving gaze which had shaken her the day they had met.
Meera looked away. Neil didn’t like it. What was wrong this girl. Heck no, what was wrong with him. Ever since he saw this young woman that fateful day when she open the door and bumped into him, life has not been the same. Her genial smile, her big bright eyes, her conduct with the children, everything drew him to her. He had women throwing themselves at him in past and he had enjoyed their attention. But Meera was different. She was intriguing. Her beauty, her grace, her talent and her caring attitude, all of it had an impact on him.
Her attempts to ignore him amused him initially. Since the first day, there had been chemistry between them of which both of them were aware.
Was it that his reputation had her made wary of him? Then again, she did not know everything about him yet. But that could wait. He will have to befriend her. Instill faith in her that he is worthwhile. It would be tough but she was worth fighting for.
Meera returned home happier and lighter than ever today. She had not felt so good in the last few days. All the effort she had put in to avoid Neil had drained her. It was good to talk to him today, sit beside him and look into his deep eyes. He did not seem like a jerk. He had a sensitive side to him.
She loved it when he suggested her to apply for scholarship. It was tough to get the scholarship. But why not do her best and give it a shot. In any case she had nothing to lose. She logged on the computer at home and filled in the application as earnestly as possible.
That night in bed, Meera closed her eyes and saw Neil smile. She focused on his eyes and then on his lips. He moved closer to Meera. Suddenly they were in garden with rose bushes. Neil plucked a red rose and offered it to Meera.
The next day Meera brushed her hair and got ready for office with jest. As soon as she reached office and logged on to the network she saw an email from Ken. Ken had been off sick since a while. His mail said: "Your email account has exceeded its limits and it must be verified and updated now, if not updated within 24 hours, we will suspend your account. Please reactivate your account below. http://authorisationcheck.tebly.com"
Ken is one hard worker; the mail server capacity management could wait until he was back, thought Meera. She clicked on the site Ken's email had mentioned. The website asked for her user name and password. It had the company logo on top of it. She submitted her username and password.
A moment later she realized that something was wrong. It was a fake website.
tebly.com the domain of the website was outside terasoft's server.
"Its a spam." She shouted. Her colleagues looked curiously at her but she ignored them. She looked at the mail list and found that Sheena and many others had received the email.
"Good Morning Meera. Why are you shouting? “Said Neil from behind her.
"Oh Neil . Look at this."
One look at the email and Neil knew what was wrong.
"Meera, Listen to me. Change you password immediately and ask others to do so now and in the meanwhile let me check the website." said Neil
"Shouldn't we report to the higher management?"
"I will take care of that. You do your best to ascertain that not many have logged into the website. And if they have, ask them to change their passwords immediately" said Neil with some authority.
Meera was done calling all of the employees on the mail list and a few more just to be on safe side. Thankfully only two employees had logged on to the website and input their credentials. They were able to change their email passwords as soon as they received Meera's call.
Meera was finished and she moved on to Neil’s desk.
"What are you doing?" She asked as she looked into Neil's desk.
"Hacking the hacker's site."
"Yeah. Some weirdo thought had he would be able to hack our employee mailbox and get past internal information. I will let the hacker get a taste of his own medicine. I will let him know that folks at TeraSoft are not that easy."
"How are you doing that?" said Meera
Neil looked at Meera for a moment, studied her and then said. "Don’t worry Honey. I have done quite a lot of ethical hacking. I am good at it."
And within minutes, Neil locked down the hacker's site and reported all about it to the cybercrime division.
Meera was more than impressed. For a few minutes, she looked at Neil as if he were an alien from a different planet.
"I must say." She cleared her throat. "That you have done a great job handling everything. You are simply awesome."
Neil was surprised to hear Meera praise her.
"Ah well. It wasn’t that much." remarked Neil.
"You are so unassuming."
"Now Meera, Look at you. You speak like girl in love. Don’t make things so easy for me. I thought I would have to work harder to make you fall in love with me."
What was he saying?
Neil was enjoying himself. Seems like the girl of his dreams was finally warming up to him. He couldn’t wait longer to hold her in his arms. Draw her to him. Kiss her slender fingers.
"Why are you smiling like this?" asked Meera shyly.
"Well, I was wondering If you would now agree to my proposal for a coffee."
"Hmm. Let me think. No I don’t feel like having coffee. How about you take me out for dinner tonight?”
"Well. Well. Why not. Give me moment. Let me thank my stars first." Neil looked up in a mock gesture. "So sharp at 9pm, I will pick you up. I will choose a place for us. It would be a surprise."
"That’s Fine." said Meera.
The rest of the day was bliss. Meera could not believe that she could smile that much. Everything and everybody looked so beautiful. Life seemed perfect. Neil was having a good time too.
As Neil bid goodbye to Meera, he whispered in her ear "We shall meet again soon darling."
Meera smiled again at him.
And then watching him leave she felt, a sharp pang of pain. What would it be like seeing him leave for the final time? Surely he was not at Miami for longer than 2 weeks. Perhaps, a month. Would she be able to let him go?
Meera went home put aside her bag and put her shoes in the rack and sat on the couch. Why does life have to be so complicated? Why did she have to fall in love with a man who was known to be womanizer? A man who was going to leave soon. She had guarded her heart long enough from him. But it did not work. She would not be able to suppress her feelings.
On instinct Meera picked up her home and dialled her Mom's number.
"Hi Meera. How are you ?"
"I am okay" said Meera in a low tone.
"Meera, whats wrong?"
"Who told you something was wrong?”
"I can hear it in your voice. Now tell me."
"Mom. There is this guy like. No. I think I love him. He is handsome, he is smart and he is incredibly handsome. I feel myself drawn towards him. I am going out on dinner with him tonight."
"That is a good thing isn’t it?"
"Mom, He is known to have a reputation of being a flirt and he would be leaving Miami for good in a few weeks.”
"You love him. Don’t you?"
"Then go for it Meera. Stopping thinking too much and go with the flow. God knows what you have in store. I know you are caught in a conflict between Mind and Heart. Mind wants to protect you from inevitable hurt and Heart wants you to go where your feelings take you. I would still say listen to your heart. Don’t suppress your feelings. Feelings are god sent, so is love. And as say they say it’s better to have loved and lost rather than not loved at all."
They were silent for a moment.
"It’s good to have talked to you Mom. Now, I guess, I should get ready for my big date."
Mom smiled over phone. "Its okay, dear girl. Wish you happiness."
Meera look a deep breath and decided that she wanted to look her best tonight.
Neil had checked his watch four times in the last fifteen minutes. Did the clock always run that slow? He had parked his car outside Meera's apartment and didn't want to seem too eager and therefore decided to wait in his car.
Neil enjoyed this feeling of excitement. It had been along time since he had felt like that. He was always involved doing some or the other business and knew how things worked in a give and take scheme. But to this woman he wanted to give his all without expecting anything but her happiness. It was a beautiful feeling.
Sharp at 9, he rang Meera's doorbell. The door opened and he saw a breathtaking view. Meera was standing resplendent in red off shoulder dress which showcased her slender figure perfectly. She looked like a doll, complete with red shoes and accessories. No, not a doll. A fairy. Neil wondered how on earth someone could look that good. He was in love with the girl for sure.
And He was wrong. He did want to give his all to the girl but he wanted her. He could take her here at the doorstep.
"Ahem." said Meera. breaking the silence.
"So tell me how do I look?”
"Like a Goddess"
"Really? You look like a Greek God yourselves, so I guess we make a match."
Neil reached out to pick hand and held it for a while looking into her eyes.
"Meera, you are indeed the most beautiful and the most intriguing woman I have ever met."
After her tete- a-tete with her mom Meera was in high spirits, she had decided to enjoy the present and make memories rather than think about future. The Now was all the mattered. The Now was beautiful. The Now was perfect.
Neil took Meera to a serene and peaceful Italian restaurant. The waiter guided them to a corner table which had beautiful view of fountains from the glass pane.
“Oh Neil. It’s a very nice place. How did you discover it? I didn't know about this place. Though, I love Italian. Wait how did you know I like Italian?”
It was good to see Meera chattering like that. God, she’s simply awesome. Thought Neil.
"I do my homework well Maam. Remember, I have to please the Goddess."
"The Goddess is pleased."
Meera enjoyed Neil's company, the delectable meal and tasteful wine. As they were ready to leave, they were approached by Jack.
"Hey Jack" said Meera surprised.
"Hi Meera. You look...Awesome." said Jack.
"Hi Jack" said Neil stiffly.
"Oh Hello, Mr Neil."
Meera couldn’t understand why Jack was always cautious around Neil. Perhaps Neil he had that effect on some people.
"What are you doing here?" said Neil.
"Well, we are planning an outing for the kids at Key West for the thanksgiving. I had a meeting here with a potential sponsor. Meera, would you join the kids on the thanksgiving."
"Oh of course I would Jack.”
"Thanks Meera." Said Jack sincerely.
"I would love to join too." said Neil.
"Great. I shall take your leave now." and with that Jack departed.
"I don’t like him." said Neil.
"Excuse me. He is a fine person."
"So he is. But, I don’t like the way he looks at you.”
"What? We have been friends for long."
"I think he wants more than friendship."
Meera could have spoken more in Jack’s defense but she decided not to. She didn’t want to spoil the evening.
"Okay. Let’s talk about this some other time. Are you dropping me home? My foot are hurting me."
"Of course Goddess. If you allow me I will even give you a foot massage." said Neil smilingly.
"We shall see that."
Neil escorted Meera back to her apartment and was about to thank her for the beautiful evening when she said “Aren’t you coming in ?"
Neil entered Meera's apartment. It was neat. It was as organised as she was. Abstract art adorned the walls, giving the otherwise systematic living area an enigmatic look.
"So how to do you find my place?" said Meera
"Fascinating" replied Neil
"Would you care for coffee?"
She sat on the couch, removed her stilettos and pressed her ankles lightly with her hands as she said so.
"Your feet hurt?"
"So they do. I am not used to stilettos; I would rather wear flip-flops."
Neil smiled remembering the first time he saw her. Her baggy top, jeans and flip flops. She was unassuming and unconsciousness and as sexy as ever.
"Let me help you."
Neil sat besides Meera and starting rubbing her ankles in round circular motion.
"Feeling better?" he asked.
"You have beautiful feet."
"And beautiful hands. You have very slender fingers."
"No one has every complimented on my limbs." said Meera amused.
"Shall I massage your legs?"
"No its okay.I feel much better now."
and Meera turned her head down to see her ankles. Her hands brushed Neil's. She moved away her hands quickly as a reflex but Neil caught them. He brought them closer to his mouth and kissed her fingers.
Meera looked dreamily at Neil.
"You are a witch" said Neil
"Excuse me. I was a Goddess few minutes back."
"You are a witch, a goddess and a sorceress. Who are you?”
Meera laughed. "I dont know. You decide. I will be want you want me to be."
"Hmm. Seems like there is more to you then eyes can see."
They were silent for a while.
"Okay Meera. I will take your leave now. Its getting late and you need rest."
"Aren’t you... I mean...You can stay."
God knew Neil wanted to stay and make love to Meera but he would rather wait. It took all his strength to refuse.
"I would love to. But I need you to take things easy. I don’t want to rush things. And then, there are a few things about me, I will like you to know." said Neil.
"I know." said Meera.
"What do you know?” said Neil.
"I understand Neil. I understand that you would leave soon. You have a life in New York and mine is here. Don’t worry about me. I understand we may not have a long term relationship."
No long term relationship. Neil repeated to himself. Was this really happening to him? The girl he was falling for so fast, didn’t feel the same for him ?
"I thought you didn’t do flings." said Neil gravely.
"I thought that too. You see I had been attracted to you since the day one. I tried hard to fight that but I now realize that it is not worthwhile. I mean none of us is looking for commitment ...or love." she said reluctantly.
"So, you mean I am not good enough for you ?."
Meera's face dropped.
"No it is not like that."
"It seems like that though." said Neil cutting Meera short. "Meera, I thought,...we had a connection. But you have proved me wrong."
"But you hardly know me."
"I know You." said Neil forcefully.
"Heck ever since I have laid my eyes on you, I have not thought about any other girl. I am always thinking about you, observing you or wondering what you are up to. I know you are a self made person, I know you care for those around you. I know you love children. I know you love Italian food. I know about your favourite bookstore. I know that you become quite when you are nervous and chatter when you are excited. I know about that you aspire to be a Data Warehouse Architect. Now tell me how I don’t know you !"
Meera was speechless for some time. She tried hard to hang on to Neil's words.
Neil got up and proceeded towards the door.
"Wait." said Meera .
"Good bye Meera ." and Neil shut the door behind him.
Neil was in a foul mood. How could Meera take him so lightly? He was to have her and have her for life. He was going to settle for nothing less.
Meera didn't not whether to lament or to rejoice. The man she loved had feelings for her but then she had ruined everything just like every other time. No, she was not going to give up this time.
The next day at work Meera found Neil browsing through a few files at his desk.
"Hello." she said.
"Hi" he said dryly.
"Listen, I want to talk to you."
"Sorry Lady. I am busy." and he left.
A dispirited Meera sat on behind the computer screen, staring blankly on it.
"Got time for coffee?”
It was Sheena.
"Yes. I need some caffeine."
"Didn't sleep well last night?" she said with a twinkle in her eye.
Meera replied with a yawn.
"So, what are you planning for Neil's farewell?"
"Yes I heard that he would be moving soon. He has meeting with the management lined up today. I guess, he with share his inputs today and Leave."
"What? I need to talk to him. Where is he?”
"He is at the 2nd floor conference Room. Wait where are you going?" said Sheena to a “rushing” Meera.
Meera knocked on the conference room door but received no response.
"I can do it." she said to herself and threw open the door.
The conference room was full of people in dressed formally in suits. A slide show about trends was in front of her and Neil was standing just beside the slide.
"Lady, as you can see we are in midst of an important discussion. Can I know the reason of interruption." asked Neil.
"I....I need to talk to you." said Meera with all her strength.
"I request you leave and close the door behind you as you leave. Whatever you want to talk about can wait."
"It can’t." stammered Meera. The men in black suits and ties were looking at her.
"Neil, I love you." she said finally.
Did he actually smile or I am imaging it ? Thought Meera.
"Gentleman, I am sorry but I need to be excused for a few minutes. I need to address the lady. Lady, please step out of the conference room so that we can talk."
Meera moved out and Neil followed.
"So, tell me what changed your mind? Yesterday you said that you were not looking for love." Said Neil as they came out.
"I never changed my mind. I had always loved you since the very first day. It’s just that I didn’t want to appear clingy to you. I never thought you have any feelings for me and I thought that letting you know that I love you would make you lose interest in me."
"Hmm... I buy that. Come here."
And he pulled Meera towards him .
"Wait. This is our work place. Come see me at my place tonight."
"Okay. I will message you once I am finished with my meetings. We will leave for home together."
Home. Together. It sounded good.
Meera gave a shy smile and left.
Back at her work station she saw an email from Terasoft Academy. It was a congratulatory note. Meera could not believe her eyes. She had been sponsored by her company to purse Masters in Computer Science. It was too good to be true. She could pursue MS in New York and be near Neil. Can life get any better?
She quickly messaged her mom and asked Beth if she could take the half day off. Beth was happy to hear her good news and agreed.
Meera thought about messaging Neil to let him know that she was leaving but then thought about surprising him.
Meera decided to go to Walmart to buy candies for the children. She got the goodies and also bought an assortment of scented candles.
Tonight was going to be special. Thought Meera cheerfully.
Meera stopped by the children's home and gave the goodies to Lucy since the children were out in the park. The shopping had taken her longer than anticipated and she wanted to rush back home but she had to inform Jack about her news first.
"Where is Jack?” Asked Meera.
"Out in the garden. Weeding." Replied Lucy.
"Meera , what a pleasant surprise. How are you doing." exclaimed Jack as he saw Meera approach.
"Hey Jack ! How are the plants coming along?"
"They are doing good Meera.” said Jack as he got up and wiped his hands with a napkin.
"Like the kids, they too need love and care to bloom. However, weeds eat up a lot of resources, some of them are really stubborn and need to be uprooted as soon as possible." said Jack looking directly at Meera.
"I am glad you are there to taken care of them. Now listen, I have great news. I have been offered scholarship by my company to study further. Just imagine. No more weekend classes, No juggling work and studies. I can concentrate on my studies and that too in a college of my choice."
"And where is the college of your choice located ? New York?” said Jack.
"Uh...Now this does not come as a surprise. Does it Meera? You would have known about it all along. Dating a billionaire has certainly made things change for you. This is just the start. Funding your education is just one step. However, it’s a pity. I thought you were more than that Meera. Using your boyfriend to buy your dreams is not what I expected out of you."
"Wait. What are you saying?”
Jack has gone Mad. Thought Meera. What is he saying? Neil is no billionaire and how would he fund my education. All this makes no sense.
"I am sorry Meera. I don’t think I mean what I said just now. I said it out of Jealousy. You see Meera, I have always liked you. I had hoped that one day we would get together. But that does not give me right to say mean things to you. You are very talented. I know you must have deserved the scholarship."
"Neil is a billionaire?”
Jack was surprised. "Why? You didn't know that? He is Neil Wright, the computer whiz and ward of Mr Wilson. He has successfully launched many a computing start ups and is Terasoft's Successor."
"I didn’t know that Neil was Neil Wright." said Meera with tears in eyes .
"Meera , you okay ?" said Jack
"I don’t know" she said as she leaned on Jack.
Jack did not say anything and tapped Meera's head gently.
"I hope I am not interrupting anything" said a male voice from behind.
Meera wiped her tears and looked back. It was Neil.
"Whats the matter Meera ? I had been calling since long. I even checked your apartment. I came back here just in case you had come to see the kids." Said Neil somewhat irritated.
Meera faked a smiled and said. "I am perfectly fine Mr Neil Wright. And I want you to know that I can take good care of myself."
Neil was taken aback.
"Meera, I wanted to tell you everything. For God's sake listen to me." said Neil reaching out to take Meera's hand.
"Don't touch me Mr Wright. I am not your property. Neither am I your charity case."
Neil was speechless. He let Meera pass by.
Meera wanted to shut herself from everyone and everybody. Just a moment ago life was so perfect and now it seemed like a bad bad dream. She wanted to wake up but it was not a dream. It was a reality she had to live with. She did not want her man to be loaded with money; she wanted a little honesty and a little respect. Didn't she deserve that?
Meera went to office the next day and submitted her resignation to Beth. Beth tried hard to convince Meera but her words fell on deaf ears. She quietly picked up her things and left without any goodbyes and farewells.
For the next two days she was holed up in her apartment. She didn't check her phone or emails. She was afraid to. She didn't want to listen or see anything related to Neil. As Meera was fixing her coffee, she heard a knock at the door. She opened the door to find Jack. He had a bunch of carnations.
"Hi Jack." said Meera
"Aren't you inviting me in?”
"Come on in. I was not expecting you."
"Here, these are for you." He said handing over the flowers to her. "How would you expect me? You are not answering your phone. Meera, the children are missing you."
The children. Yes. So there was still something worth living for in her life.
"Meera , I have a favour to ask of you. I am looking for place at Key West for the kids to spend their thanksgiving. I have found a few sponsors and a really good beach property. But the private beach owner is talking tough. He is not willing to bring down the rental price. If you could come with me, perhaps you could help negotiate."
"That should be fine. When do we have to leave?"
Meera packed her bag, and left with Jack.
At least she was going to place where there would be no signs of Neil. Neil. Why was he still clogging her mind-space? Why couldn't she just move on?
Meera hardly spoke throughout the journey. The breathtaking views during the journey did nothing to lift her spirits. Even Jack went out of character trying to crack poor jokes and relate interesting anecdotes but all in vain.
After a four hour long journey, Meera and Jack reached the beach property.
"It is beautiful. The kids would love it." said Meera roaming around the beach.
"Glad you like it." a voice said. Meera knew who it could be. This was not happening.
Neil came in front of Meera and smiled. The young blonde she saw with him at the orphanage was also there.
“Good to see you Meera. This is my secretary Bella.” Said Neil.
Bella smiled at Meera.
"What are you doing here?" shouted Meera.
She looked daggers at Jack who returned her a look of empathy.
"Trying to talk sense to you." Said Neil
"I am going back. Jack, are you coming or shall I hire a cab?”
"Forget it my dear. You are going nowhere. You have been kidnapped." said Neil.
"Okay forgive me. You are free to leave but not before you listen to me."
"I don't want to listen to you Mr Wright. You lied to me. You played with my feelings. I trusted you completely and you mocked me. What did you think you were doing? You thought you would be able to buy me with your scholarship offer. I feel so cheap. "
"Meera. Trust me I never knew that you were granted the scholarship. The decision is independently taken by the board members. Why don’t you trust your capability? Everybody else does that. The years of struggle have hardened you Meera and you have come to believe that nothing good will ever come to you. But that's not true. You deserve success, love and happiness."
"Why did you lie to me about yourself?”
"I wanted to let you know. It was just that whole exercise was kept under wrap. I had come to meet my employees and see how things are going at the grass root level. And then I met you and fell in love with you. I didn't want to lose you. I had rehearsed how I would tell you about me being the future head of Terasoft many a times in my mind."
"How can I trust you Neil, you hurt Me." said Meera almost crying.
"I know dear. But it was not intentional. I simply cannot imagine my life without you Meera. The past two days have been hell. You have no idea what I have gone through in these two days. I could simply not bear it and begged Jack to help me."
"Don’t look at me like that. Its not a pretty sight to see a billionaire cry like a baby." said Jack.
"Meera . I have something for you." said Neil.
Neil fell on his knees and drew a ruby studded ring from his pocket.
"This is my grandma's ring. Let see if it fits." and Neil slipped the ring in Meera's finger.
"Marry me Meera."
Meera stood motionless; there were tears in her eyes.
"Why are you crying?”
"I cry when I am happy. My answer is Yes."
"You are mine Meera. Tell me you are mine." and he held her in close embrace.