Read previous chapter here: Life’s Game- Chapter 11
The elevator door closed with a ding. Aryan pressed the button to the seventeenth floor and it started to ascend. He slid back and silently watched the woman standing next to him. Nothing could dodge his calculating eyes. He was just like a hawk, soaring above and plunging down on the prey at the right time.
It was always easy for him to find his preys in the past. But this time it took him more effort to find this particular prey. It was hard, but once he moved all his coins, he could say ‘checkmate.’ And that… that one moment was worth the wait and the troubles he had gone through. That one moment, which would bring him the taste of victory.
Aryan sported a casual smile as he looked at Tara. His Ace Card. His would-be-money-bearing-tree.
“So, tell me more about your family?” He started the conversation with his warm smile. And that smile had helped him a lot in his life. A smile, which was so warm and friendly and a smile that would make his opponent remove their guard on their own.
“My family, well, it is as normal as any family can be. I love my daughter and husband. My husband loves his writing… Normal.” Tara waved a dismissive hand, but Aryan could see the pearls of sweat dotting her upper lips.
This is getting interesting, he thought with a snide smile. His eyes glinted in victory. His target had – unconsciously – realized her danger. Don’t worry, Tara Dutta. I will not wield my knives against you. Not now, not soon. I will remove all your guard and then will attack straight to your heart.
Aryan’s life had been a series of adventures and misadventures. His path was never a clear one. But then, he had only one destination – Money; and he would choose any way that would lead him there. He rubbed his palms together as he threw another smile.
“Sometimes I wish I had a family to boast about. A little girl to show-off. But life had another plan for me. It took all my little children away from me – all the girls I dearly cherished.” He finished with a sad sigh, which filled the empty silence in the elevator. Tara gave him a smile, drenched with sympathy, but he could see the fear glinting in her eyes. The same fear he so cherished and loved. The same fear that gave him power. He drunk her fear with satisfaction; its addictive taste made his smile wider.
“Oh… what happened to your family?” He could hear the slight tremor in her voice. But she stood rigid, chin upturned, clearly trying to mask her true emotions. But no… his eyes, they never missed any details.
“Don’t worry about that. It was in the past. But these days, I am feeling lonely.” He laughed and she looked relaxed after hearing that. He had two weapon against women – his charm and his wit. It would win him everything he desired.
She spilled a smile when the elevator came to a halt. He started to follow her, but when his phone rang, he stopped.
“Yes. I will be there in a bit.” He said and shut his phone.
“Mrs. Dutta, I am sorry. But I have an urgent work. Tell your husband that I’ll come later to visit him. Sorry for the inconvenience.” And then he left through the stairs.
Tara entered her home and found that Shekar and Roohi were already there in front of the table, with tea and biscuits arranged on the plate.
So they are waiting for Mr. Ahuja, she thought as she traipsed past the living room. The man followed her steps.
“Oh, Mr. Ahuja said he can’t visit you today.” She gave her husband a sarcastic smile and vanished inside her room.
Something about Mr. Ahuja gave her a bad vibe. It was the same feeling she got when she met Jennifer the first time. She didn’t know why this feeling of imminent danger was assaulting her. But it was there… it was as if the bomb over her head was going to explode. Very soon. Or I am just going mad, imagining things.
Her phone rang, pulling her out of her thoughts. She saw Jennifer’s name flashing across her screen. Sliding the green button, she answered the call.
“Hello. Ms. Dutta, I am Jennifer. About our meeting, I am already in your building. Can I come up? Are you ready?”
“Yes Ms. Joseph, you can come. I am almost ready.” She said and closed the phone.
So many new people in my life, recently. What is happening around me? She thought as she entered the bathroom.
She splashed water against her face and looked at herself in the mirror. One mistake… only one mistake. But it was now stalking her, haunting her. She was guilty, but fear overcame the sense of guilt. It was the fear of losing everything she had built for herself.
Tara, relax. Nothing is going to happen to you. Not after all these years.
Even though, her brain asked her to forget about this unproven doubt and fear, her heart was still thundering beneath her ribs as she walked out.
Jennifer took a deep breath to relax her heart. She hesitated for a moment before the elevator, but then decided her mind to enter. If there were dangers, she would face it. She was, no longer, the scared, crying young girl. She had grown a lot. She had learnt life and its tricks along the way.
But… what is he doing here? Why is he here? Why?
She pulled the shirt sleeves she had rolled above her elbow down and let it cover the stain of her past. There was nothing that would cover that part of her life from her mind and memories, though. Her nightmares were coming true. But this time, she would face her demons.
When she pressed the bell, Mr. Dutta opened it with his usual distracted smile. He asked her to come in and she obeyed with a smile.
“Hi Ms. Joseph. I am ready for the shoot. I hope you’ll be satisfied with this last shoot.” Tara gave her a strained smile. Jennifer nodded at that. She too hoped that this would be a great shoot and that she would succeed in getting what she required.
The first issue with two successful women entrepreneurs had already received popularity and applause. For the second issue, Jennifer had to finish working with Tara or her boss would be angry. Jennifer shook her head. She wouldn’t let that happen. Her life – professional life – was finally back on track and she wouldn’t let anything, not even the disturbing memories of the past, to spoil it for her. She needed to be successful. She needed to prove her love for the art of photography. And for that, this final shoot had to be a high quality clicks.
Jennifer looked up at Tara. She had a great eye for the fashion. She looked elegant and graceful and her smile was just right. But Jennifer could feel the pinging tension in the air.
Is he threatening Ms. Dutta with something?
Jennifer didn’t know where than thought had come from, but she bristled when it came. She eyed Tara, who was now adjusting the chair. When she saw him entering the lift with Tara Dutta, Jennifer wanted to protect the woman from that monster.
Stop thinking about it. You can think about it later. Do your work now.
Jennifer wore her professional smile as she adjusted the light angle and her camera position. She looked through the lens to see Tara smiling at her. Tara’s makeup was done with artistic skill, but something was missing.
“Ms. Dutta, sorry to bother you again, but can you please relax and let your inner self out?” Jennifer got a weird smile from Ms. Dutta for that.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You take this seriously, don’t you? I will try my best. I don’t want to waste any more time in this photo shoot.” Tara said with a frown. Jennifer nodded. Sometimes, working with high-profile women was bothersome. They were all polite, but cool. Informal.
“Sure. I am doing my best. Please don’t take offense, Ms. Dutta, but I do my work just as sincerely as you do yours.”
And then she let her camera talk. She clicked and clicked until she felt satisfied. When the session was over, Jennifer walked out with Tara and Jennifer’s nightmare had already departed.
“Aunt Jennifer…” Roohi gave her a bright smile. Jennifer’s lips smiled on its own. Roohi had that magic.
“Can I take some pictures of you?” Jennifer asked as she bent down to smile at the little girl. Roohi’s nod was energetic.
“No Jennifer, don’t. You have already taken the photos of my family before.”
“This is for my personal collection, ma’am. I love children and their guileless innocence. I want to savour some of Roohi’s smile and freeze it in place. As a keepsake of happy memories.”
Roohi’s smile became wider when Jennifer said that. Shekhar, for the first time, looked up at her with wonder.
“You can be a good writer.”
“Uh… oh…. Thank you.” Jennifer replied.
“Okay then.” Tara gave a lax shrug as she walked past Jennifer. “I have some works to do. I will be going to my room, first. Ms. Joseph, nice to meet you.” She turned and walked away to her room.
When Jennifer finished clicking Roohi’s picture, she said goodbye to Mr. Dutta and Roohi. She walked outside and entered the elevator.
And you can be that piece of puzzle I am looking for.
When Jennifer looked up, startled, she could see someone walking away through the small gap in the elevator door.
Read the next chapter: Life’s Game – Chapter 13