The Arrangement

By: P.G. Van

“No, Naani. You can’t force him like that.” Niha so badly wanted it all to stop. She wanted everything to go back to Mahen being in the office and Naani and her on the couch or in the library or the kitchen cooking. She could not imagine another person, especially another woman, to upset her new life.

“I know I should not, but what do I do?” Naani shook her head and then added, “Niha, take them something to drink and see how they are doing. Be sure to stay there for a few minutes and see what they are saying.”

“No, I can’t. That’s weird.” Niha so badly wanted to interrupt the conversation happening upstairs and chastised herself for the pretense.

“Niha, please. Go,” Naani pled, and Niha nodded.

Niha went into the kitchen to ask Ratnamma to make some coffee for the guest and went into her room. She opened her braided hair and tied it into a ponytail, adjusted her saree just like Radha had done to show off a part of her waist, and stood looking at herself in the mirror.

Why she felt the need to do what she was about to do, she had no idea, but it was the only way to calm that inner voice that was screaming in her head—the voice that told her the woman was a threat to her very existence—which was stupid, but she could not push the thought away.

The real reason for why she was going to execute her plan was that she was not ready to entertain the thought, let alone wonder and explore her feelings.

Chapter 9

A few minutes later, she carried a tray with a mug of coffee and a glass of coconut water up the stairs. Her heart thudded in anticipation, and she felt disgusted with herself for what she was about to do, but her brain was beyond rational at that point.

She stopped a foot from the doors and took a deep breath looking up at the ceiling. “God, help me.”

With that, she stepped in front of the glass doors and looked into the office and was surprised to see that there was no one in the office. She waited for a moment, and then she heard his voice through the office doors, and she realized they were on the small balcony off his office.

She stepped into the office holding the tray to her and looked at Mahen through the French doors that led to the balcony. He was sitting on the outdoor sofa, his eyes fixated on the woman in front of him, and Radha was nodding as he spoke to her.

As if he sensed her presence, he stopped mid-sentence and looked at Niha, a look of annoyance on his face. Her heart dropped to her stomach when he curtly held his finger up, asking her to hold on before opening the French doors.

Niha swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat when he gestured her to open the door. She nodded and smiled at Mahen when he got up to hold the door open for her, but he did not respond to her smile.

“Radha, have you met Niha?”

“Yes, we did.” The woman sounded cheerful.

“Are you going to Raghav’s party at his farmhouse?” Mahen asked, and Niha was shocked that they were already talking about partying together. That and Mahen was the one asking the woman.

Niha placed the coffee in front of the woman, knowing she had declined the offer earlier. “Naani sent coffee for you.”

Radha looked at the coffee that had milk added to it and said, “I only drink black coffee. Sorry.”

Before Niha could say anything, Mahen spoke up. “I’ll drink the coffee. Radha can have the coconut water instead.”

Niha knew she had to execute her plan, her so-called way of breaking the connection that was building between Mahen and Radha. She bent in front of Mahen to reach for the coffee mug that was on the other side of the coffee table. She leaned over in such a way that Mahen had a full view of her flat belly and curves from the way the saree was stashed over her shoulder.

Niha felt relief sweep over her when she felt his breath hitch, and he cleared his throat. She took that as a sign and decided to go ahead with the next step of her ridiculous plan, which she had concocted with the coconut water and not with the coffee.

You are stupid, Niha.

Her brained screamed a warning, but in her desperation to achieve the unknown, she picked up the coffee and the next second pretended like she lost her balance and spilled the hot coffee all over the skirt of her saree and let out a squeal.

“Oh no, I’m sorry.” Niha looked down at the spilled coffee and watched as Mahen reached for the stack of napkins to give to her.

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