Zodiac Girls Ch. 02bydamppanties©
Chapter 2: Aquarius, Arielle
dr_m for the great idea.
Elizabetht for wielding the whip. :D
and CharleyH for a fantastic edit.
Who gives to all a helping hand,
But bows her head to no command-
And higher laws doth understand?
Inventor, Genius, Superman. -Aquarius!
Arielle opened the door of her hotel room to an exquisite arrangement of orchids.
'God! Not another one!' She was tired of these flower arrangements which had been following her around from one place to another on her vacation!
This was her time for relaxing and pampering herself. It was long overdue after the years she had put into single-handedly making a go of Ken's company after he had died.
It had not been easy, learning the ropes and getting the ailing publishing house back into shape. Nevertheless, the work had interested Arielle and the need to be independent had spurred her on, so that now she was head and shoulders above her competitors. Four years of dedication to work had been tiring but she had only become aware of it when she was forced by her personal secretary-cum-friend, Paula, to get away from it with a heartfelt wish not to see her back in office for at least two weeks.
Arielle had given in and chosen this exotic, far-off location carefully in order to loosen up and enjoy herself. The earthy buildings, sleepy towns and bustling cities she had visited in the past two weeks had been just what she had needed. Truly, she was in love with India.
The tour had consisted of Calcutta, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, and now finally, a small sleepy town in the foot of the Himalayas - Simla. The bright colours, the architecture, Taj Mahal, forts in Delhi and Jaipur, the dark- skinned people with white, smiling teeth, the temples with their adorned gods, all of that had filled her with an enthusiasm for living, lost partly with Ken's death. This vacation was the best thing to have happened to her lately.
But now... these blasted flowers.
She hated mysteries. She wanted things immediately. She liked to be in control. It was just not in her nature to look forward to surprises and things, which took a long time in coming, making her curious and irritated in waiting for them.
Her mom always said she couldn't even wait for her birth. She had arrived three weeks earlier than she was due, surprising everyone in early February. Arielle smiled for a moment at the fond memories of this recollection, but then got back to the present.
What was she going to do about the flowers?
For the meantime, she picked them up and dumped them on the table in her hotel room. She would think about them later, after dinner. Who knows, she might even keep them. They were flowers after all. Whoever was sending them was being a pain, but at least the flowers were beautiful.
A glass of water into the bowl holding them and she was off.
The dining room of the hotel she had picked was small and cosy without being claustrophobic. The tables were far apart and she could concentrate on eating in the lazy atmosphere. She chose the same table she had been taking for the past two days that she had been there. The same, elderly waiter smiled at her and came forward with the menu in his hand. She let him order for her as she had been doing, his choice's had been good and besides, she didn't know what the Indian dishes were anyway. He shuffled away.
"Excuse me!" she suddenly called out after him.
He turned, a startled look on his face, and came back to her table. "Any problem, Miss?"
"No. No problem." She was embarrassed to have called him back that way. She smiled at him. "I just wanted to ask you something. I got a beautiful flower arrangement from someone. Orchids. It was left outside my room, in front of my door. Any idea where it came from?"
The old waiter looked confused. "You don't know, Miss?"
"No, I don't. There's no name or card. It's like it just appeared magically." The last sentence was mumbled almost under her breath but the waiter caught it.
"What, Miss? Magic?" His eyes had turned enormous and his mouth was shaped into a round 'O'.
"No, no. Nothing. Could you get me my dinner now, please? I'll figure out the flower mystery myself."
He muttered something under his breath, smiled nervously and moved away.
The dinner was fabulous as usual but Arielle didn't know what she was eating. It could have been anything. The spices made it difficult to make out, but the experience was worth having. Just as she was finishing a delicious, brown, gelatinous substance in the name of dessert, the waiter came back to her table.
"Maybe Miss would like to see Jyotshi," he said with a bow, his hands clasped loosely in front of him.
He tried to hide a smile. Arielle wondered what she had said.
"It is a man, Miss. The fortune-teller."
"Oh." It took a moment to sink in, and then Arielle tried to hide a smile of her own. "I am not interested in all that. Don't believe the stuff."
The old waiter hesitated. "Miss said something about mystery of flowers; the Jyotshi would be able to help."
"No, no. It's quite okay. I'm capable of figuring it out for myself."
He looked crestfallen. "Miss can try," he persisted. "It's the hotel's night for free services from the Jyotshi."
Arielle didn't have the heart to tell him no again. He was a kind soul and had been helping her for the past two days. She nodded and asked him to lead her to the fortune-teller.
He led her towards a corner of the garden which was the designated place.
The sight, which greeted her, was awesome. A group of people were settled cross-legged on the ground around a man dressed in a saffron robe, a saffron cloth wrapped around his head as a turban. His grey beard almost touched his lap as he sat between the cluster of silent people. His eyes were closed. One hand clicked over brown beads tied together with string and his other hand rested on what looked like a wooden stick shaped like a 'Y'. The air was heavy with the scent of burning incense, accentuating the surreal atmosphere. The lights wavered softly on them, flickering, from several candles lit on the ground around them, surrounding the group like an aura.
As Arielle approached the group, the fortune-teller suddenly opened his eyes and stared directly at her, into her eyes. Arielle was taken aback and faltered in her step. How could he have seen her? She had been approaching from the darkened pathway, and he was the one sitting in the light. It was impossible for him to have known that she was coming! She would have turned back if it wasn't for the old waiter urging her on.
They reached the group and the waiter led her around them and he conferred with the fortune-teller for a few moments before turning back to Arielle.
"Miss, Baba says he is pleased to meet you."
Arielle had been eyeing the various people sitting in front of the man. At the waiter's comment she turned around to the fortune-teller.
She looked at him. Looked away. Her eyes were drawn back to his intense black gaze. "I'm not sure what is required of me," she said, not breaking the contact with his eyes.
"Baba wishes to read your hand, Miss. If you will please..."
Palms upward, the fortune-teller extended his hand toward her.
'This was ridiculous!' She was not going to give her hand to some dirty old man just because the waiter was telling her to.
The fortune-teller patted the earth beside him.
Arielle sank down to her knees, scarcely bothering to think about the white skirt she had on.
He put his hand out again.
Arielle stared at it for a long moment before putting her hand in his. The brown beads still in his hand touched the back of hers. They were rough.
The fortune-teller seemed to be staring at her hand with the utmost concentration. He angled her hand this way and that, once even pressing his hands to the sides of her palm, making her cup the air above it.
"Bada achha yog hai."
Arielle looked toward the waiter. He smiled broadly.
"He says you have a very good fortune, Miss," the waiter announced proudly.
Arielle managed a smile and a nod to the waiter with a mental rolling of her eyes. This farce would be over soon.
"Jeevan mein bada anokha badlao aane waala hai. Achhe ke liye. Naya hoga to thoda dar lagega, lekin darna nahi. Aage badh kar dono haathon se ye den ko samet lena."
Arielle stared at him, his eyes gazing into hers as he uttered the foreign words in a soft but compelling voice.
"Baba is telling that there will be a change in your life. Big change, for better. It will be new for you, so you will feel a little bit scared, but don't let that affect you. Move towards the... the treasure and embrace it to yourself," the waiter translated looking a bit uncomfortable with the words.
This was useless. Arielle was just about to thank them and be on her way when the fortune-teller started again.
"Phir se man mein pyaar jagega. Kumbha rashi hai, badlao achha nahi lagta aapko. Bahot koshish hogi isko dabane ki lekin bhavishya mein likha hai to hoga."
The waiter's voice was respectful as he started, "Love will come into your heart again. Baba says you have Kumbha rashi, which means you were born sometime in the period from late January to early February..."
Arielle gasped. "5th February! How does he know that?"
The waiter bowed his head, questioning the fortune-teller was just not done.
"Baba knows, Miss." That was explanation enough.
He continued, "Due to your being in the Kumbha rashi, you do not like change. You will try to ignore the love, but if it is written in your fate, it will happen."
Arielle had had enough of this stupidity. She snatched her hand out of the fortune-teller's and made a move to rise.
"Aapko shayad mera ye kehna achha nahi laga, lekin yeh yaad rakhna. Jo beeth gaya so beeth gaya. Beethey hue kal mein mat jio. Jo aage aane waala hai, usey apnao."
The waiter seemed intimidated by her rudeness to the fortune-teller as he translated, in a low voice, "Baba says, maybe you did not like my saying this, but remember this. What is past is past. Do not live in the days, which are over. What is going to come in the future, seize that."
"Thank you," Arielle muttered, more to the waiter than the fortune-teller as she rose and walked away from the disconcerting place without a backward glance. She was sure it was all a ruse, built up further by use of the cleverly manipulated atmosphere, the candles and incense, the awe of the waiter and the pure hype built up around that fortune-teller. This was absurd! There was going to be no love in her life. She didn't have the time for it. With that, she decided to dismiss the matter from her mind and enjoy the two days left of her vacation.
The next morning, Arielle woke up earlier than she had been doing for the past few days. Going into the balcony attached to her room, she looked out at the garden below. She could see the corner where the fortune-teller had been sitting with his believers, the candles, the incense and the whole mystic aura around him. She remembered his strange prophecy.
Love will come into your heart again... It will be new for you so you will feel a little bit scared, but don't let that affect you. Move towards the... the treasure and embrace it to yourself... You will try to ignore the love but if it is written in your fate, it will happen.
A scornful laugh escaped her lips. The probability of her finding love was as dim as... as she leaving her thriving business to stay back in this vibrantly different country, making it her home. Which was, impossible. She loved the place but she had a life back home, one she was satisfied with. She didn't want any love to come and upset her orderly life. It was not what she needed.
As the cool morning sky started showing streaks of pink, Arielle leaned over the parapet and thought of Ken. It had been an ideal love affair, which had continued even after their marriage. That kind of love came into a person's life only once, that is, if they were lucky. She could not even think of having what she had with Ken repeated with someone else; and she was not willing to settle for anything less.
So much for the fortune-teller's crap. Love, indeed! She had had her share of love and she was quite content, thank you. By now, Arielle had blown herself up into illogical righteousness, which closed her mind to anything that could happen.
As she raised her head, the first rays of the sun fell on her upturned face, warm and satisfying in the cool morning. She could see far into the valley from where she was standing and the sight was breathtaking. It was a beautiful town. Some far away parts were totally covered in mist, which had also entered the garden and hid the far corners from her view, making it appear romantic and dreamlike.
Arielle wrapped her arms around her middle and hugged herself. She was missing Ken.
Just as she was about to turn back into her room, she saw some movement out of the corner of her eye, in the garden below. The mist stirred and a man walked out, wearing dark blue jogging pants. His chest was bare, magnificently, deeply bronzed with little, black hair running down the middle. The top of his jogging suit was bunched in his hand. The muscles in his arms were toned to perfection, reflecting the same tautness in his shoulders and abdomen. His jet black hair was slightly damp with perspiration as it fell in moist waves, just long and thick enough to run one's hand through.
Even as Arielle was examining what appeared to be an apparition, he looked up, and into her eyes. Intense black eyes locked with pale blue ones, and Arielle felt a chill run through her body. With her arms still around her, Arielle rubbed the sides of her waist, shivering a little.
The man stopped, the mist swirled around him, making him seem unreal, and God-like.
God-like. Yes, the perfect word to describe him. Arielle noticed his straight, sharp nose; his nostrils flared a bit as he concentrated on her, his kissable lips and his unshaven appearance.
He was superb.
With this thought still in her mind, Arielle broke eye contact. She was not interested. She whirled around and entered her room. It was not like her to stare at half naked men like that. Mildly irritated with herself, she began the preparations for the day's outing. She had planned to go hiking on a trail recommended by the hotel manager.
The day was good, the hike pleasantly tiring. Arielle was awed by the sights she had seen on the trail. After a long, soothing bath in the evening, she decided to thank the manager for pointing her to it. She approached the reception, but was informed that the manager was busy and would be available after half an hour.
Arielle decided to have her dinner while waiting for the manager and turning around, she collided into a hard chest. She looked up, to apologise, and was again captivated by those black eyes.
He moved away, keeping a hand around her arm to steady her.
"I'm sorry," she breathlessly got out.
He nodded once, a curt movement of the head. His eyes softened a bit. "Can I help you? Accompany you somewhere?"
God! His voice! Deep, resonating, smooth, honeyed; flowing over her senses as she tried to force her sluggish brain to make sense of his words.
"No. No, I'm fine. I was just going to the dining room," she managed.
"I'll escort you there," he said with a sudden smile. The smile transformed his features to such an extent that he changed from mysterious God to charming stranger. His hand wound around hers as he started across the lobby.
Arielle tried to protest. "It's not necessary really. I'm fine. You don't need to..."
He cut across her feeble objection. "It's okay. It's just across the lobby."
With that, he led her into the inviting dining room and steered her over to a far corner. Arielle tried to tell him that she always sat at a table closer to the door, but he guided her to the farthest table, effectively silencing her protests along the way.
They reached the table and he pulled out a chair for her. Arielle hesitated, and then sat down.
"May I have the pleasure of dining with you?"
Arielle didn't know what to say. She looked up at him and then away. Took a deep breath, let it out slowly and finally, nodded, almost imperceptibly.
He took a seat opposite her. "I'm Egan. Egan Sanders."
They looked at each other warily.
"Listen, Mr. Sanders..."
"Egan," he corrected in a low voice. "Call me Egan."
"No!" It came out forcefully. "I will not call you Egan. I... I don't even know who you are. I've just seen you once in the morning and then now... now you force your way into a dinner with me an..."
He held up one hand.
Her flow of words stopped. She took a deep, calming breath and looked away. She was close to tears and she didn't know why. This was not such a big thing. She could handle it. She tried to compose herself.
She looked at back at him.
"I am a businessman. My mother was Indian and my father was from Greece. He came down here for a holiday, met my mother, fell in love, married her, stayed here. I'm their only son. I grew up here. Higher education in England. They died when I was twenty. I took over their small business. Expanded it, it's doing quite well. I'm single, charming, good-looking, unabashedly immodest," his lips moved into a grin, "enough of that." He sobered and the intensity in his eyes deepened. "And I saw you today on that balcony. You looked like a dream. I wanted to meet you, to talk to you. That's it. Now you know me. Now, can you have dinner with me?" he finished with a smile and sat back in his chair.
Arielle stared at him. She didn't know what she might have said in response because at that time, the waiter came by with the menu and the decision was made for her as Egan ordered for the both of them.
Egan was non-threatening and interesting company, and soon Arielle warmed to this stranger. They had a pleasant dinner where both of them shared a little more about themselves, nothing more than edited life histories. The conversation was relaxing. Arielle found herself enjoying the attention he lavished upon her and before dinner was over, she was totally comfortable with him.
"Will you spend tomorrow with me?" The question came just as they were finishing desert.
Arielle hesitated. "I don't know," she told him honestly. "Tomorrow is the last day of my vacation."
He shrugged. "Spend it with me."
She didn't say anything.
"Do you have anything planned?" he prodded.
She shook her head no.
"Well, then. It's decided?"
Arielle still didn't speak.
"Arielle, it's only a day. I'm not asking for much. I'll take you on a trail not many people know about. It's got the best view of Simla. You can't leave this place without seeing that."
His words finally convinced Arielle, not that she needed much convincing. She nodded a yes and then started getting up to go to her room. Egan rose with her and accompanied her to the lift, getting in with her.
"No, it's okay. You don't have to come up. I'll go by myself," she started but he brushed aside all her exclamations and walked her to her room.
Once there, he waited till she had her door open, and was inside before giving her a small kiss on her cheek, then smiling and walking away.
Arielle was dazed with the kiss because she wasn't expecting it. She clutched the door and watched his back walking away from her. Slowly closing the door, she went to get ready for sleep, thinking about him; and that night, dreaming about him.
The next day was as perfect as it could have been. The trail he took her on was everything he promised, and much more. Arielle was totally in love with the place by the time she reached a rocky summit, where they could see the whole of the hill-station lying in neat tiers below them. This final view was too much, and she just stood there, feasting her eyes over the offering for a few minutes, neither of them speaking a word.