LOVE CONQUERS- CHAPTER 3

Evening saw a bit of celebration. Sunny and Rose came to wish her too; they had been invited by Estelle. She was quite surprised therefore when she felt only a bit of discomfort and no envy watching them together. Not that she had ever been jealous but one did wish for their love story to begin or even come true. She had envied them for that. After watching them together in the restaurant, she was not so sure. She had been right to have broken off with Sunny. Perhaps somewhere her subconscious had already recognized that he was not the ideal mate for her. An image of the tall stranger floated at the back of her eyes. She wondered vaguely what would have happened if she’d said yes to dinner with him. Annoyed with herself, she swiped her hand in front of her eyes as if by doing so, she could wipe him out of her mind.

People who made the party were classmates from M.B.A. classes while some were classmates from her French lessons, some were old friends.  Rose came and kissed her cheek, “Iris, congratulations sweetheart. You’re not just pretty but also brainy.”

Iris liked Rose quite a bit. She grinned at her now and hugged her back, “Thanks for boosting up my confidence Rose. Now if only I’d get a job with employers who think that about me.” She turned to Sunny and congratulated him in return too.

Iris circulated in their small home, mingling with the other students who had passed and discussing their job prospects. Some of them already had jobs lined up while some planned to join their family business. Iris had a twinge of anxiety when she realized she will have to choose her next course of action quickly. Coaching was all well but she didn’t want to make a career out of it. She did wish to look for the steadiness a job gave would give her. Mentally she firmed her mind on searching for good jobs from the next day onwards.

The party broke up at about midnight since everyone had to either go to work the next day or attend their other appointments. Iris decided upon calling her family the next morning since it was too late. To her annoyance, when she closed her eyes, the last image that came to her mind was of that stranger.

“Count sheep Iris and forget that impossible man!” she told herself and promptly fell asleep.

That didn’t stop her from waking up with a start early in the morning. She looked at the clock by her bedside and found it had gone five; almost time to wake up. She wiped her forehead to see herself sweating. She remembered what she had been dreaming about and blushed. Whatever was the matter with her, for God’s sake! Why in the world had she been dreaming of that odious man and dreaming about… she shook her head to take a swipe at the images that had been a part of her dream. She must be going mad. Best she focused on getting a job soon.

Once she finished her morning chores that included some power yoga, morning tea with Estelle, another cup with her breakfast and finally a shower, she decided to call home. Marguerite picked up the phone.

“Marguerite, how are you?”

From the other side Marguerite’s voice came, her tone stiff as she said, “Alright I guess. Congratulations on your post-graduation.”

Iris put a smile in her voice and said, “Thank you dear. Is Dad around?”

“Right here.’ Came the reply.

Her father had been dead against the idea of Iris venturing out of the house and going into the city to study. Since the day Iris had left, her father had not spoken with her apart from the times when her mother had probably insisted on him speaking to her. Tears threatened to choke her up as Iris thought her father must have been waiting for the phone call from her. Maybe he had forgiven her to disobeying him?

“Congratulations Iris.” Her father came on the line.

“Dad.” Iris all but choked up but continued, “I hope you’re happy Dad. I told you I’ll make you proud, didn’t I?”

Her father’s stiff “Yes, well- talk to you mother. I must leave for work. Good bye.” Had her realizing very clearly that perhaps nothing would now bridge the gap that had come between her and her father. Her father was a proud man and he wouldn’t take this slight to his wishes in a forgiving manner. Tears gathered and flowed freely from her eyes as she realized her father still didn’t wish to speak to her. He didn’t even ask her to come home before she found a job for herself.

“Iris, you’re there darling? Her mother’s voice in her ear had Iris coming out of her sadness.

“Yes Mum, I’m here.”

“Have you started looking for jobs yet?”

Iris hesitated before she spoke, “I was thinking- maybe I could come there before I start job hunting.”

Her mother’s refusal was sweetly but firmly given.

“I’d love to have you here, you know but I think at the moment there is no need for you to come here. You should find yourself a job soon or you’d be out of money. God knows we can’t send you any! We are already looking after Marguerite’s needs and she is already on the verge of getting engaged to a very eligible young man. He works with a global organization and is well sought after. With all the hype you created in the society when you left, coming here could spoil her chances. You do understand, don’t you?”

Iris covered the phone with her hand lest the sob that had escaped her mouth could be heard. She said, “I just wanted to come there once Mum to meet you all. Dad—“

Her mother interrupted her, “We’re all very happy that you’ve passed the exams and completed the goal you’d set for yourself when you fought with us and went away. We’re happy for you Iris, truly. I’d rather you didn’t come here at this time. Maybe you could visit us for a day or two some other time once you get a job, hmmm? Take care now, good bye.”

Iris put the phone down, pain too deep rooted in her heart to say anything. She should have known that nothing would make her acceptable in their eyes. When she’d stayed at home and kept a low profile, she’d been acceptable enough; not anymore when she was all ready to stand on her two feet and had already announced her independence. Like automation, she picked up her tea cup and went into the kitchen.

Estelle’s smile vanished as she looked at Iris, laying down her cup in the sink and sitting down by the kitchen table. “Spoken to your family, have you?” she said gently, coming to squeeze her shoulder.

Iris rubbed a hand on her forehead and spoke with difficulty, trying to break up into pieces, “They’re still angry. They wished me well but said I needn’t come home.”

Estelle paled and said muttered under her breath about insensitive family. She looked down at Iris who was trying hard not to howl. She knew how much Iris loved her family; her kid sister for whom she’d many a times argued with her father when he’d refused something she had asked for. Hell, she’d also secretly given Marguerite an allowance every month so that she could buy all that she wanted, without harassing their father. This blunt rejection must have hit her hard.

Estelle said softly, “You are home honey. This is home, isn’t it?”

Iris smiled, mocking herself, “Yes, this is home.”

Estelle flinched at the pain those words held. She looked at Iris whose face was a mask of calmness, her eyes betraying the bleakness inside.

“Iris, honey-“

Iris ran out of the kitchen and into the bathroom before Estelle could say anything else. There she threw up and retched until she could feel her throat burning. Tears began then, and she sobbed hard.

Estelle knocked on the door, “Iris, honey- let me in please!”

Iris opened the door and threw herself in Estelle’s arms, sobbing hard now while she cried, “They don’t even love me anymore Estelle. My family has discarded me like yesterday’s potatoes. They almost regard me as one of the dead. Oh Estelle, they don’t love me!”

Estelle soothed her hair, letting her cry and made comforting noises. It was no use assuring her of course. Iris was crying as if her heart was completely shattered. Estelle guided Iris into her own room, gave her a glass of water to drink while she still sobbed and stayed with her until Iris fell into an exhausted sleep. Estelle covered her up, looking at Iris. Tears were still running down unchecked, even in her sleep.  She kissed Iris on the cheek after wiping her tears away, her own eyes filled up. “Sleep it out darling. You’ll be okay. You’re brave. You will make it.” Quietly she closed the door, her eyes tearing up at the sorrow that reigned Iris’s life at the moment. The time that should have been happiest of her life after getting a gold medal and passing her exams had become the saddest indeed.  She decided to go to church and pray for her.

The scene changed little when Estelle visited Iris in her room in the evening. Iris was sitting by her study table, the night lamp on. She looked up as Estelle came in and said blankly, “I’d forgotten, you’d be leaving me soon too.”

Estelle’s heart quaked as she looked at Iris’s eyes. There was no pain anymore in those eyes. Those brown eyes looked as opaque as wood, the hint of laughter gone from her eyes. She sat there looking like a carved statue. She sat down beside Iris and took her hand in his, replying carefully, “Iris, am about to be married and will leave this house, yes. But I will not leave you, not the way you mean. We’ve been friends for quite some time now. You will always be near my heart and any time you need me I shall be here for you. I promise you that Iris.”

Iris smiled for the first time since the telephone call; ghost of what he bright and cheerful smile was as she said, “Thank you Estelle for your support and care. I do love you for saying this and I also know you mean it. Sorry for being such a pain in the ass this morning.”

Estelle smiled brightly, hiding her own emotions, “What are friends for chérie? “ and Iris grinned at her slowly. Though…as if sensing Estelle’s worries, Iris smiled sadly and said, “Do not worry Estelle. I will be all right. I think I have cried the sadness out of my system now; especially with regards to my family. I must face reality, right? Facts are facts and I must stand up to them and accept them as they are. So what if they don’t love me? It should be enough for me that I still love them. I shall continue paying the allowance to Marguerite and I’ll be damned if I let myself change simply because they have changed towards me.”

She got up from the chair and picked up the hair brush, “Oh well, you learn from life, don’t you? God sent us alone in this world and we must learn to leave it alone. At least they wished me well. I should be content with that.”

Estelle admired her friend as she brushed her hair. It looked as if Iris had mentally closed herself to the episode. She will be calm from now on, not mentioning the incident again, even if it had scarred her heart somewhat. From what she knew of Iris, she would not ever raise the topic again or let her hurt show. Sighing Estelle got up and went on to get ready to meet Rajiv.

Days flew by very quickly. Iris had applied for jobs at several places and given quite a few interviews by now. She was accepted at almost all the places, only she politely denied the offers. She had not yet found the job that would brighten up her career and bring her forth. She had also started wondering if the kind of job she was looking for existed.

A phone call roused her from her musings as she sat with her afternoon cup of tea.

Love conquers- Chapter 2

Chapter—2

“Good morning lazybones! Get up, it’s almost eight now!”

Iris muttered a curse and hid her face under the pillow, snuggling deeper into the covers.

It was rudely snatched off as Estelle’s voice rang out, “You get up right now Iris Florence! Let me throw some cold water over your face. It’ll surely help.”

Giving a groan of frustration, Iris came out of the covers, “Oh God, what is it with you Estelle? I think today is Saturday, the day I can sleep as long as I like.” Then a sparkle of mischief lit her eyes as she said slyly, “Got up the wrong side of bed, have we Estelle or maybe that’s a wrong question. Did you go to bed at all?”

“Why you- !!” A pillow fight took commencement and as usual Iris won the round and escaped into the bathroom before she was hit any more.

The morning chores done, Estelle and Iris sat down for breakfast. While buttering her toast and plying it with jam, Iris asked her, “So what happened last night?”

At the bright smile and blush that Estelle bestowed upon her, Iris screamed in delight, “He proposed? Oh My God! Tell me all!”

Estelle quietly took her left hand out and showed off her engagement ring which was a lovely diamond solitaire. Iris hugged Estelle and pumped her for information to find that not only had they become engaged but Rajiv and Estelle had decided to tie the knot two weeks later. They had lots of friends but both were orphans so they had no family to take permission from. Estelle’s eyes got wet as she said this and was assured by Iris that she would be standing right next to her, no matter what.

Together they started discussing the cost of the wedding, invitation and dresses for trousseau that will have to be bought. The matter remained under discussion all throughout the afternoon where three of their other friends also joined in. It was decided that the next day all girls would go out shopping since there was hardly any free time during weekdays.

The next day was spent shopping for Estelle where they bought the wedding dress. Rajiv wanted Estelle to marry in traditional Indian attire and Estelle had agreed so white had been dropped. However that didn’t stop them from buying a lovely white smocked cotton-silk dress that had halter neck. She could wear it during the going away party. This was gifted by Iris to Estelle.  Once back home, they caught up with an old movie on the telly and then went off to sleep. A tiring but completely enjoyable day, thought Iris sleepily as she lay in her bed. Let us see what tomorrow brings.

The first day of the week saw Iris working hard as usual, busy with her coaching classes and waiting for her results with baited breath. She had almost reached the stage where waiting had become a painful act. In her free time in the evenings, once she was back home, she baked tiny cakes and muffins for the week. She knew Estelle loved them and no matter how much she moaned about gaining weight, she never gained an ounce. The week passed by her in this manner, with the only addition being Iris visiting her relatives staying the same city for dinner.

Basically a small town girl, Iris had always been attracted by the city lights. She loved the country; not that she didn’t love the house her parents had in the country but the city held its own charms for her. She loved the busy, hectic trend of life.

The week after the next saw her back at the University, looking worried and tense as she waited to know what her score was. To pass the time, she went into the library where the librarian gave her a broad smile, welcoming her. A little taken aback by such a dazzling smile, Iris being polite smiled back only to drop into the chair with the librarian saying,

“Congratulations dear. You’ve done us proud. “

A little slack-jawed, Iris looked at her stammering, “Y-You mean the results are out?”

The librarian laughed softly, “Oh yes, my dear. You passed and you passed with very good score indeed. So much so that you’re a gold medalist now in your subject.”

Iris heard all this and could only say, “Wow.” It is true that joy rendered people speechless, she discovered. After a few minutes when her brain had finally digested the fact, she whooped with joy. “My goodness! Oh thank you God, I passed! Any idea when I’d get the mark sheet?”

The librarian shrugged her shoulders and said, “Best you go to the  head office and find out more. All I know is that you, Raj and another guy I can’t remember the name of; someone foreign who gave the exam as an external candidate- you three stood out. Mr. Francis is overjoyed.”

Mr Francis, being the head of the department was widely respected and acknowledged with admiration by students.

Iris positively glowed as she reached the office. Her classmates stood around the office too and as soon as they saw her, they rushed towards her, hugging her and congratulating her. She wished them as well in return since it seemed as if almost everyone had passed the exams. She saw a dark head turned away from all the commotion; a tall man standing out but she couldn’t see much since she was surrounded by others. Probably the foreigner that the librarian had been talking about, she guessed and didn’t bother much.

There was a telephone booth not far away from the office of the head of the University. Once Iris had received her mark sheet with the score, she made a beeline for it. The first call went to Estelle who crowed with delight and promised to come home early. Next phone call was to her parents.

The day she came to live into the city and study further, her relations with her family were strained. They spoke not very often like other girls did with their parents. Iris was hurt the day Marguerite had been given the go to study fashion designing away from home. Of course it made all the difference that Marguerite was golden haired, blue eyed daughter of their parents just like their mother had been of her parents; a beauty that made Iris looked like muddy water beside her but she never minded that.

However they were not able to deter Iris from her decision to study M.B.A. and that had displeased them immensely.  Iris knew her mother wanted her to simply keep the house and one day eventually get married but she had other plans. However, today, all was forgotten. Iris only wanted to share her happiness with them. It was her sister Marguerite who picked up the phone.

Iris cheerfully spoke in to the phone with her sister, asking after her health and so on. Then she said, “Could you possibly get Mum on the phone darling? I wanted to speak to her.”

Mrs. Florence came on the phone and Iris all but cried, “Mum, I passed the exams!”

A befitting reply came from the other end, “To be expected of you of course. Congratulations Iris; you’ve done us proud. Wait till your father hears this news.”

Iris could have chatted on happily but she could see a queue forming for the phone. She said, “Mum I shall call you tonight. Until then, take care.”

Wiping happy tears, Iris smiled at the next person waiting for his chance to phone and walked off. Her head down, she thanked God. Things will work out in her life now. She would look for a job with handsome pay and then, she’d make a lovely life for herself. Sure, she still wanted a doting husband and happy children but that will just have to wait with no man on the horizon for her to love and cherish.

The next moment she found her face into a waistcoat, her exclamation smothered. To steady herself she caught on to the waist of the waistcoat. She was after a second or two mercilessly pushed off with a soft curse. With an apology on her lips, she looked up and her words died in her throat as the wearer of the waist coat rasped,

“Can’t you ever watch where you’re going?”

Those grey green eyes looked stormy at the moment, making Iris’s blood boil. She knew it was her fault, she knew she should have looked where she was going but at the moment, that was all forgotten as she gasped at this attack and retorted coolly, “You could have always moved aside instead of banging into me yourself. Practice what you preach mister.”

And with her nose high up in the air, she started walking away from there only to stop and turn back in outrage as she said, “Maybe you’re bumping into me deliberately? Not that I’m averse to holding a female body in my arms but there are other ways of making yourself visible.”

“How dare you insinuate–!! Your ego is astounding, but you know that of course.” Her disinterested tone gave no indication of the anger she seethed with inside but the look she gave him could sure have killed him on the spot had been a lesser mortal.

She almost vented out her anger when she saw that he looked amused instead of shameful.  She felt like hitting him and that in itself was shocking since she never ever hit anyone. She was the one who always played it cool and icy rather than giving in to her temper aggressively. She deemed it best to move away from the man as quickly as possible.

She turned away from him, only to be turned around again as she caught her wrist in his hand. Her entire body went into shock at his touch, his touch creating a fire somewhere in her belly. She decided to ignore it and focus on her anger instead.

“How—let go of me at once!”

His eyes narrowed at her tone but he didn’t say anything, rather looked at her closely. Iris squirmed as she tried to free her hand, “Let me go damn you!”

“You’re the girl, who topped in International Business, aren’t you?”

The penny dropped and she made the interested observation, “You’re the foreigner who is in the top three of course. You were the one standing by the Head Principal’s office.” and then blushed. Oh for the love of—curse her wayward tongue!

He raised an eyebrow, mocking her, “Ah, so you do know who I am. Now I think those bumps into me were deliberate indeed.”

Iris gave him a look cold enough to free Iceland, “Just because I know of you doesn’t mean I know you. Colliding with you was at best ignorance in not watching where I was going; just like you and that is all. I heard that some external candidate; a foreigner was one of the toppers. Since you’re an outsider the logical conclusion is that you’re that person.”

“Clever of you.” He replied, his tone mocking. Iris wondered why she was bothering to give any kind of explanation about what she thought and then got exasperated with herself and him. She was still struggling to get her wrist freed.

“Would you stop this manhandling and let me go or would you rather you be slapped!”

“A bit tough since I’m a head taller than you surely?” She was coming to hate the mocking tone of conversation he insisted on using. “What are you doing this evening?”

For a moment, Iris simply looked at him, her mouth open while she digested the fact that the man had a sense of humour along with top level arrogance.  Then her brain whirred and began functioning again. She looked away from him. Somewhere inside there was a voice tempting her to say “I’m not doing anything this evening” and see where it all went but the sensible part of her brain was ringing alarm bells. Taking a deep breath, she gave him a cool reply, “Nothing that may concern you. Now let go of my wrist.”

“I think it may be a good idea if we went out for dinner, don’t you?” He observed in an interested tone, still not letting her go.

“I’d rather go out with a three faced cobra so no thank you.” Iris kept her tone just as his was, observational.

He let her go then, his eyes amused. “You sure have temper lady.”

“ You’ve seen nothing yet.” muttered Iris, rubbing her wrist now that it was free. It tingled and burnt. It shocked her to feel a sense of loss as he let her go. Aloud she said, “Good bye.” and walked off.

He watched her go, his eyes now hard as flint. A part of his mind debated why he felt intrigued with her. He liked his women petite, blonde, voluptuous and with brains filled with cotton wool and she was neither. He was not a keeper and he knew that. He chose the women he went out with carefully so that when the time came to sever a relationship; all he had to do was gift a piece of expensive jewelry and be done with it. Indeed she was most certainly not his type. But she had felt right in his arms, a part of his brain argued silently and his body agreed.

He rubbed his jaw absently. He wasn’t sure what about her had interested him but he had felt electricity zinging as he had bumped into her. It had turned into raging desire when he’d caught hold of her wrist. He had felt his caveman urges instincts rising within him for her, as if he’d like to manacle her to his side. Desire is what had prompted him to ask her out as he’d worked out who she was.  Or maybe that fact that he could use her brains for his company? She would prove to be a good manager, he felt sure of that. But since she’d rejected his invitation offhand, he wouldn’t think about her. He sure was not one of them men who’d run behind a woman. If she wasn’t interested, so be it. He walked into the parking lot where his Mercedes was parked, his mind already busy with a business deal, Iris out of his mind–for now.