The week flew by. Trisha didn’t know how she managed to clock in so many hours at work when all she could do was think about Abhimanyu. They spoke to each other several times on the phone, and once Abhimanyu took his turn asking her his five questions. Meeting Abhimanyu seemed to have revitalized her. His presence in her life reminded her that we don’t really choose the people we love: Love chooses for us and brings us to them through coincidences.
Even to Juhi it was clear how Trisha’s mood had changed. Trisha seemed brighter and less lonely. She made sure to convey all these nuances to Trisha’s mother, who seemed quite pleased.
At work, Trisha displayed a quiet confidence that impressed her colleagues and superiors. One day, after making a thorough presentation to the board about malnutrition in India, her boss had told her, ‘Never seen you so driven and motivated, Trisha. Keep up the good work.’ Trisha was elated, feeling renewed vigour in life. She went back to her desk, took a marker, and wrote on the white board behind her computer, ‘If you feel like you've been “chosen” to be happy, then nothing can bring you down.’ She honestly believed in it.
Soon Saturday came, the day she was supposed to watch Abhimanyu play. He had told her it would be a friendly match with his friend and that she can come to the Vinay Marg sports complex any time in the morning between six and ten, but that earlier would be better so she can see him `crush’ his friend.
Trisha took a quick shower, got dressed in a dark red velvet kurta and a white churidar, and threw on her beige coat. She accessorized with silver hoops and flat red kolhapuris. She grabbed her large white purse, stuffed it with a book, and left the apartment around seven o’ clock.
She reached the court in half an hour and was shocked to see who Abhimanyu’s ‘friend’ was: Leander Paes, the international tennis star! She looked for a seat as Abhimanyu waved at her. The umpire shouted, ‘Love- forty.’
Abhimanyu served to Leander and it was an Ace. The umpire shouted, ‘Fifteen-forty.’ Abhimanyu had been losing until Trisha came. He knew he couldn’t lose in front of her. He served again and Leander returned down the line but Abhimanyu was already at the base line ready to lobby it back. Leander hit it back and went running towards the net but it was already declared ‘Out’ by the umpire. ‘Thirty-forty’ the umpire shouted probably for Trisha to hear. She clapped. Trisha was grateful to her father for being a tennis addict and making her watch all the Grand Slams every year since she was ten. Whatever little she understood of the matches was thanks to that. So far, she had only read tabloid stories of tennis stars and suddenly she wondered if her budding romance with Abhimanyu would also hit the tabloids soon. Her parents might just wake up one morning to read about her affair in the papers!
Abhimanyu served again and Leander hit it into the net. ‘Deuce!’ The umpire said.
Abhimanyu had gotten back in the game. They were even. Trisha shouted, ‘Go Abhimanyu!’ Leander looked up at her and said across the net to Abhimanyu, ‘The stakes are higher now huh, Abhi?’
Abhimanyu smiled. He served. Leander deliberately put the ball in the net.
‘Don’t give it to me, man!’ Abhimanyu shouted, ‘Let me earn it.’
Leander smiled and nodded. The next two points were long rallies that were pure A-class tennis. Trisha was enthralled. She had never enjoyed a tennis game as much as she did just then. She felt as if she was at Wimbledon watching the final match between two extremely talented players.
Abhimanyu won the game. He rushed over to Trisha, jumping the seats and grabbing hold of her to plant a deep, sensual kiss on her lips that astounded her and made her heart race.‘I want you there at all my matches,’ he whispered. ‘You’re my lucky charm!’
Trisha was delighted.
Leander called from his chair, ‘Are you going to introduce me to your lucky charm?’
Abhimanyu looked back at him and yelled. ‘This is Trisha. My girlfriend!’ ’
Trisha’s heart hammered. She had never heard that word spoken about her before. When she was with Vedant, he had always skirted around the word. They had a deep connection and said ‘sweetheart’ to each other but ‘girlfriend’ was never said; Vedant said it was juvenile.
Right now, at the tennis court, Trisha was touched to hear the word. It meant that she was someone’s, a significant other. It felt nice to ‘belong’. She couldn’t explain it. Even though she had been one-half of a ‘couple’ before, it felt extremely special for Abhimanyu to declare it.
It was a tough match and both Abhimanyu and Leander were very pleased with themselves. They showered and changed as Trisha waited outside the locker rooms, reading her book. Although it was a chilly December morning, Trisha felt warm. She felt a cosmic connection with Abhimanyu that she never had with Vedant. Even though she had spent two years with Vedant, she could feel how she had changed since she left the university. She now understood the things she needed from a man was exactly what Abhimanyu was giving her: a deep sense of security and a strong sense of acknowledgement in his life. After Vedant, she never thought that she would be in a relationship so soon and be able to tell her Mom or Juhi that she had a boyfriend this early.
Abhimanyu came out and walked towards her. His blue denim jeans were tight, showing off his strong muscular thighs and slim hips. ‘You carried a book in case you got bored of watching me?’
‘No.’ She shut the book and kept it in her bag. ‘A book is like my keys or mobile phone. I never leave home without it.’ She said with a smile.
‘Look, about earlier,’ Abhimanyu said shyly. ‘I got caught up in the moment and was so glad to see you that I kissed you and called you my girlfriend. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.’
‘No, it’s fine.’ She paused. ‘So am I really your girlfriend?’
‘Of course,’ he whispered, wrapping his arms around her. ‘I would really like to see where this goes. Is that fine?’
‘Yes, Abhimanyu, me too.’ She closed her eyes and buried her face in his shoulder.
‘Well as I promised I shall take you to breakfast but do you want to wait for my friend who’s flown in from Mumbai just for me or do you think we should ditch him?’
Trisha laughed and replied, “‘Let’s wait for Leander.’
‘Oh you know Leander but you didn’t know me huh?’
Trisha took his arm and squeezed it. The smell of his fresh cologne, the muscles rippling under the crispness of his shirt, quickened her pulse, and she kissed his clean-shaven bronze cheek and said softly, ‘I know you now darling!’ She couldn’t believe that with just one meeting and a few conversations she could have such an instant connect with someone. Was it destiny? She had thought she would take forever to get over Vedant but here was someone who was loving and nice despite being a huge sports star and she felt completely drawn to him. Her heart felt what she was doing was right. Somehow, she felt whole again—as if the loneliness was ebbing away and a new hope was taking its place.
Trisha could feel her body becoming warm and her primal desire swelling up with just his arm lying gently around her waist. The compelling brown eyes, the firm jaw, the confident set of shoulders made him imminently desirable. He looked deep into her eyes wanting to fulfil every thought that ran through her brain.
“‘You look so pretty,’ he said softly. He trailed his fingers down her face, her slender neck, her smooth skin glowing with the golden undertones of the sun’s rays, to the back of her thick, dark hair. He removed the clip that was holding her hair in place. ‘You look even better with your hair open.’ He bent down to softly kiss her lips. He projected an energy and power that undoubtedly left her breathless and overwhelmed each time they met.
‘You’re not wearing a jacket,’ she murmured. ‘Aren’t you feeling cold?’
His warm breath left her cheeks and settled on her ears. ‘I’m quite hot right now.’ Neither of them was willing to let the other go. But just then, Leander came out, and they hastily pulled away.
The three of them considered where to go for breakfast and finally decided on the All American Diner at the Habitat Centre.
At the diner, Trisha was delighted to discover that despite his international stature, Leander Paes was funny, down to earth, and quite a normal person. He was courteous with the servers and posed for pictures graciously with anyone who asked. Trisha had never met a celebrity before and liked how it was to be sharing breakfast with not one but two of them.
‘As soon as the autograph-seekers had left Leander turned to Trisha. ‘Abhi has never introduced me to any of his girlfriends before. You must be special.’
She blushed as her hair tumbled carelessly around her shoulder. “‘Well I don’t know about that,’ she replied. She could see Abhimanyu who was smiling indulgently as she continued, ‘Maybe there were just too many of them for him to have introduced everyone to you.’
Leander teased, ‘Yeah…Maybe I should tell her some of your stories.’
‘Do we really need to get into these stories?’ Abhimanyu said.
Trisha nudged him. ‘Let him speak.’
Abhimanyu was desperately changing the topic. ‘I don’t think we’ve ordered enough. Should we order some drinks?’ He spotted a waiter. ‘Excuse me? Can we please have the milkshake menu?’
Trisha and Leander chuckled. She wondered, though, why Abhimanyu should feel so uncomfortable with Leander telling her about his previous relationships. Was there more than just one Sara in his life? Was Abhimanyu truly a ladies’ man? She was confused and suddenly her walls were up again.
She didn’t want to be a spoilsport so made small talk with Leander. ‘What has brought you to Delhi?’
‘Abhi and I are doubling up for the Australian Open in January and then again for the Monte Carlo Rolex Masters in April. We need to practice together on clay. The professional courts at Siri Fort Complex were being renovated today so we had to play at Vinay Marg. It was just to get warmed up.’
Trisha’s eyes widened. ‘Wow, Australia. And Monaco! It must be beautiful there.’ Trisha vowed to read up on tennis so she wouldn’t come across as a complete ignoramus in the august presence of tennis stalwarts like Leander and her boyfriend. If Abhimanyu was going to show off his ‘girlfriend’ to more friends, she needed to brush up on her knowledge of the game.
‘It is,’ nodded Leander. ‘Monaco is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve seen in the world. I won the championship there in 2005.’
‘I didn’t know that,’ Trisha said. ‘Belated congratulations!’
‘Thanks. We’re hoping to win this year too. And Australia. Well that’ll always be special for both of us.’ He winked at Abhimanyu as if they shared some secret. Seeing the gesture made Trisha go more into her shell. She began imagining skeletons tumbling out of Abhimanyu’s closet. He was, after all, a huge tennis star and female adulation was something athletes were used to.
As if on cue, some girls who were seated some distance away came up to them and shyly asked, ‘Abhimanyu and Leander can we have a photo with you?’
The two men got up while one of the girls asked a waiter to take a photo with her mobile phone. The girl stood next to Abhimanyu, who casually put his arm around the girl’s waist and tilted his head towards her as the group posed for the photo. Trisha felt jealous, wondering if dating a glamour sports star was the right thing for her to do.
Soon the waiter brought over their breakfast. Abhimanyu and Leander immediately dug in as they discussed their game, while Trisha picked at her food, lost in thought. She tossed her hair back and tied it with a clip. Then she picked up her fork again. What happened next, she didn’t expect: Swiftly as if he was a magician, Abhimanyu put his hand behind Trisha’s back and removed her hair clip and kept it in his hand. He continued speaking to Leander while doing that, his movements smooth and rapid.
From the corner of her eye, she could see Abhimanyu smiling. She stifled a grin. There was a lull in the conversation and he turned to her, his eyes filled with a compelling, curious longing. His smile was disarming. Trisha’s doubts disappeared in an instant. She realized how foolish she had been to judge him so quickly. Just go with the flow!
The three of them finished their meal and engaged in friendly banter. After an hour, Leander said he was ‘going to make a move.’
Abhimanyu laughed. ‘Sorry for boring you.’
Leander waved his arm to dismiss him. ‘No problem. I remember when I was dating Rhea. It was exactly the same. I’ll leave you two alone. I’ll see you at Coach’s place later this afternoon. Trisha it was lovely to meet you.’ Trisha returned the compliment.
Leander grabbed the check before Trisha and Abhimanyu could, paid for the bill, and said goodbye.
‘He’s a nice guy,’ said Trisha.
‘Yes he is.’
Trisha took the hairclip from him and kept it in her bag.
‘Will you be travelling much through the year?’
‘Yes, baby.’ His eyes searched her face. ‘It’s going to be a lot of back and forth this year. Need to win a lot of championships for India.’ He paused. ‘I’m really reluctant to leave you, but it is my job.’
Trisha knew the distance would be tough on both of them, but she appreciated Abhimanyu’s honesty, right from the beginning. She realized that in matters of the heart, you had to stop playing games if you were really in love. And with Vedant, there never was an honest answer.
Trisha felt a pang of sadness. They had just started dating and he would soon be leaving on long tours across the world. But this was to be expected of an international tennis player, she reminded herself. But what concerned Trisha was that she didn’t know when she would meet Abhimanyu again. All she knew that here was another man who was not going to be around her just when she had started getting close to him.Buy it here: http://www.flipkart.com/advantage-love/p/itmds3hgffrvnxqd?pid=9788129130020&otracker=from-search&srno=t_3&query=advantage+love&ref=20898c40-882c-412c-b296-6949602d9c6f