Driving on further, Abhi recollects how the next two weeks passed off in a frenzy of activities.
His mother was coming down from London for the wedding and he also had the most worrying task of meeting his future father in law.
For the first time in his life, Abhi was nervous of meeting a man. He knew Nikki doted on her father even though she hardly stayed with him.
" While I was schooling Mom and Papa divorced. Since Papa used to travel a lot for work, I was given in my mother's custody," she explained one day to Abhi. " Since Mom was bitterly against Papa she would reduce our meetings. Eventually Papa married a nice Spanish lady Shyla and settled in Spain.
Whenever I get a little long leave, I pay them a visit. I will always be Papa's little princess. I could tell he was never happy with the guy friends I hung around with even though I was never romantically involved with any." She sees Abhi breathe a sigh of relief and smiles.
"Even thouhg, He always taught me to take my own decisions ," Nikki continued, " I guess like all fathers, he is a little wary of the kind of guy, his darling daughter would eventually choose one day. Whether, he likes you or not, it will not change my decision to marry you, but, I really hope he does like you. I love you both and want you to get along with each other. She smiles expectantly.
For her sake, Abhi also hoped his to be father in law likes him.
The D-Day arrived. At Nikki's place, Abhi was standing face to face with the tall, good looking, salt and peppered haired, Ajay Malhotra.
"Are you sure you want to marry my daughter?" he asks Abhi, sizing him up and down.
Taking Nikki's hand lovingly in his, Abhi says, "Yes, Sir."
Going closer to Abhi, Ajay Malhotra narrows the distance between them.
"You know my daughter can be quiet temperamental at times."
"Papa?" an indignant Nikki tries to butt in.
"What if she runs away from you. What would you do Dr. Abhimanyu Modi?" there was a challenge in his voice.
Abhi looks firmly into his eyes.
"Well Sir, I will find her and bind her in chains forever."
"Abhi?" Nikki is aghast.
There is a deafening silence in the room. The two men look unflinchingly into the other's eyes.
A slight smile slowly creeps on Ajay Malhotra's face.
"I am glad my daughter is marrying you, Abhimanyu" he tells Abhi extending his hand out to him.
"I am glad too Sir," Abhi smiles shaking his hand firmly.
Nikki couldn't fathom what their little their exchange was all about.
'A future son-in-law telling his father-in-law how badly he would treat his most beloved daughter and the father approves ?' Open mouth she gapes at the two men as they smile and thump each other.
"Dinner is ready!" Shyla announces.
Nikki tells Abhi and Shyla to proceed to the dining room while she has a few words with her father.
"What was that Papa?" she demands
"What are you talking about ?" Ajay Malhotra was nonchalant
"You were always very keen I should marry someone who would love and care for me'"
"You think Abhimanyu doesn't love and care for you?" With the raise of an eyebrow her father questions
"No he does Papa, but how could you approve after all that he told you?
"You mean I shouldn't approve of him?"
"Uffo, why are you twisting my words Papa?" Nikki was annoyed " I mean he didn't say the right thing''I mean '.." she didn't know how to explain.
Ajay Malhotra smiles.
He puts his hand lovingly around his daughter's shoulder.
"When you were born, the first time you opened your tiny eyes and smiled at me, you took my heart away. From then I always wanted you to be protected and loved and there was always this fear that no man could ever love and protect you except for me. For someone to love you so much, he has to be prepared to face any kind of situations, even walk barefoot on a bed of nails.
After years of worrying about the man you would choose to be your husband, my fears vanished today, when I looked into Abhimanyu's eyes. He is not afraid of facing any situation Nikki. He will not necessarily say the right things, he'll find ways to do them right too. No matter what storms come into your lives, he'll confront it bravely and yet will always love and protect you. Marrying him is the best decision you've taken in your life."
She sees tears of happiness and pride in her father's eyes. Her eyes too brim with tears. He pulls her into his arms. As he protectively holds her, Nikki sobs bitterly into his chest.
She realizes the depth of love the two men have for her. She chokes with happiness.
Sent by Shyla to call them, Abhi knocks on the door and enters slowly. They did not hear him enter.
Watching Father and Daughter, sharing an emotional moment, Abhi's eyes moistens. He quietly leaves the room.
Nikki was nervously waiting for Abhi and his mother to arrive.
"Calm Down Nikki," Ajay and Shyla would tell Nikki on and off, as she paced about nervously.
Finally, the doorbell rings. Nikki has butterflies in her stomach.
Ajay ushers Abhi and his mother in.
Rachna Modi was a simple yet elegant lady, stylishly clad in a pastel chiffon saree with a string of beads around her neck.
After Abhi finishes the round of introductions, she goes over to Nikki and smiles at her.
"Hmmmmm, I see Abhi was not wrong at all," She smiles at her. "You are as lovely as Abhi kept telling me. I am so happy to meet you."
She hugs Nikki warmly taking away all her fears. Abhi smiles happily.
By the end of the evening, Rachna and Nikki got along like House on Fire. At times Abhi would be the butt of their jokes. He felt like an intruder between them.
On the work-front, Abhi was highly stressed. Financiers who verbally approved of the project, would suddenly back off. The board sent him a letter saying that if he was unable to find the required finance for the project by next month, the project would be scrapped. Abhi was thoroughly broken from inside. He had put in so much of efforts in the project and just cannot bear to see it being scrapped.
Looking at Nikki's exuberance and excitement about the wedding, he did not want to spoil things for her. He tried to maintain a smiling face whenever he was with her.
His mother kept scolding him for not doing much about the wedding. The day would arrive soon.
Sitting in the lawn, emotionally stressed about the project and preparing for the wedding, he was staring blankly ahead of him.
A soft hand tenderly caresses his face. He closes his eyes basking in the lovely sensation of that touch. He holds the hand and looks up at the face looking adoringly at him.
Seeing the turbulence lurking in his eyes, her expressions changes to worry
"Abhi, what happened? Are you okay?" Nikki asks concernedly
"I am fine," he tries to assure her with a feeble smile.
"No, you are not" Nikki tells him firmly. "I have been noticing for the past few days, you are not yourself, you are completely distracted. Whats the problem Abhi, tell me?"
"Its nothing Nikki," Abhi abruptly stands up and turns his face away.
Nikki gently holds his arm.
"Abhi, please tell me. We are getting married now and you shouldn't be hiding things from me."
"Nikki, I am not hiding anything,"
"Then tell me the truth or else I'll think you are not happy about marrying me," Nikki begins to sulk.
After a lot of coaxing, Abhi tells her about not getting financiers for the project and the deadline for it."
Nikki is saddened. She knew how deep Abhi's heart was into the project.
With a heavy heart, she puts a hand gently on his face.
"Do you want to postpone the wedding?" she asks him softly.
Deeply touched, by her words, Abhi felt a piercing pain in his heart. He knew how excited she was about the wedding. His eyes begin to glisten. Taking her hand, he raises it to his lips.
"No, Sweetheart !" kissing her palm, he tells her fondly. "Come what May, we will get married as scheduled ."
Behind the tears in her eyes, he can see glimpses of happiness in them.
Abhi smiles emotionally at her.
"But, we cannot go ahead with the honeymoon, right now."
Nikki nods her head understandingly.
Taking her in his arms, he says, "let me find the finance for the project and then we'll go on a long, long, long honeymoon."
He smiles mischievously at her.
Blushing, Nikki playfully punches him on the chest.
Watching them from the window, Rachna smiles tearfully. She misses her husband, having lost him in a car accident, five years ago. However, she was sure he watching them from above and will be so happy that their son finally found the right life partner.
"God Bless You Both!" she whispers and draws the curtains.
For his side of wedding preparations, Armaan came to Abhi's rescue.
"I just went through it all," Armaan tells him. "So I know better."
"Also, Nikki is my best friend, so its my duty to see she has a proper groom for the wedding. Leave it to you, pata nahin, what you will do." he taunts Abhi.
"Haan, Haan, Armaan Dude, Jai Ho !" Abhi returns sarcastically.
"You take care of your project, while Atul and me will co-ordinate with Aunty and handle the wedding preparations at your end."
Abhi found it difficult to believe, Armaan and he, who at one point of time, could not see eye-to-eye with each other, have now developed a comfortable comradeship.
Driving the car, a smile appears on Abhi's lips. For a complete Loner, in few days, he had achieved so much then, an open hearted and much needed welcome from his future father in law, an understanding future wife and a Foe-turned-Friend. The Gods were kind to him !
To be continued.