Iris looked up into dangerously gleaming eyes of Alessandro and unconsciously took a step back. Alessandro watched her move with an eyebrow raised mockingly, “Scared of me Iris? Is that why you’ve been avoiding me?”

“Rubbish! Why should I be scared of you or avoiding you?” Iris huffed back, offended that he could read her so easily. She ignored his grin at her reply and steeled her heart against his charm- or at least tried to, as she said, “I have been working like all your other employees do. I get paid to work in the day time, not to while my time away, Signor Bertoni.”

When he didn’t respond to her statement, she couldn’t help but ask, “Why are you here? I thought you’d have left to go back to the city yesterday itself. Don’t they need you at the office there?” Then as another thought struck her, she looked up at him, “Are you checking up on me?”

Alessandro was enjoying himself, seeing the expressions flitting past Iris’s face. She couldn’t keep a single thought in that pretty head of hers when he was around, could she? The thought made him grin inwardly. He was right. She will fall in with his plans, sooner or later.

Outwardly his face was a bland mask as he asked back, “Should I be checking up on you?”

Iris was confused and offended. Her work had always been a source of pride for her. “Of course you don’t need to check up on me. I work with complete sincerity. If you have any doubts on it, you may ask Luigi or even Signore Flipe or Felice.” She remembered their sass from the last time and smiled.

“I don’t need to ask the boys whether they find your work suitable or not. I was the one who recommended you for the job, remember? I know you’d do your work well.” Alessandro said, his mouth tight with annoyance. She smiled while thinking about his cousins and he didn’t like that. What could they do that could make her smile like that with fondness? A new emotion, this one, almost like he was jealous. His face took on an incredulous expression for a fleeting second before he put on the bland mask back, but his mind was whirring with the thought. Could it be that he was jealous of his cousins because Iris smiled while thinking of them? He frowned so heavily, that Iris was taken aback and instantly asked, “Cosa c’è Signor Bertoni?”

“Nothing is the matter Iris. And I’ve told you before, I’d like it if you’d call me Alessandro. Signor Bertoni makes me feel like my father.”

He sounded so surly that Iris found a smile making its way to her lips before she could stop it along with the words. “You sound like your son Ernesto right now.”

She bit her tongue the moment these words were out. Alessandro would not take it kindly to being compared to his two year old son, she was sure. She closed her eyes and cursed herself for her stupidity in provoking him and opened them, all ready to apologise only to gasp in shock at the look in his eyes. She wanted to run and hide somewhere where this hunger wouldn’t be able to touch her. She tried to move her feet away from him but they wouldn’t obey. She tried to take her eyes off his but he wouldn’t let go of the hold on her. Iris felt deer caught in headlights. Like a panther, he advanced on her slowly, the heat in his eyes nearly melting her on the spot.

Finally some part of her brain jangled loud in alarm as he came too close and she moved sideways, making some space between them, stuttering, “I must get back to the house. There’s – there’s..”

Alessandro caught her deftly by the waist and she collided against his body, her own catching fire. She closed her eyes at the sensation, trying to grapple to her sanity.

“Open your eyes and look at me Iris. Look what you do to me. Feel it.” And he moved his lower body against her, his arousal evident. Iris gasped and struggled, “Don’t—let me go Alessandro. I don’t want to-“

“Yes you do.” He said and brought his head down, close to her own. His eyes were at level now with hers, the green in them burning bright. Iris closed her own to reduce the impact of those eyes. He kissed her forehead then and she shivered. Next he kissed her, a fleeting touch, as he whispered against her ear, “I get so turned on when you talk like that. As if you know me and my sons intimately- as if you’ve known us all forever.”

One of his hands held her chin up as he rained kisses on her jaw, “I feel as if I’ve been in that body of yours, right inside your heat, giving them to you.”

His words short circuited her brain as images superimposed themselves on her sanity. Erotic images, where she herself being loved and made love to by Alessandro, taking Alessandro deep into her as he shot his seed, she saw herself giving birth to his sons and the joy of their being. Reality slipped back in then, like a bowl of ice cold water thrown on her face. She pushed him back hard, making him nearly rock on his heels, breathing fast and heavy as she said, “Don’t touch me !!! You—I will not fall for this. Never.”

Alessandro tried to hold her in his arms and explain, but she slapped them away, “How dare you talk like that—as if I was not an employee but your bit of fluff on the side!” She wrapped her arms around herself, shaking, “You are callous! You were married to their mother and yet can dismiss her without a single thought, but I can’t. How many times have you told a woman that while trying to seduce her Alessandro? This is sick!”

Alessandro caught her firmly this time, his eyes flickering grey steel, “Sta zitto! I have never needed to say anything like this to any woman. Women come to me knowing they are only going to be pleasure partners. “ At her scathing look, he continued, “I have never- ever said that to any woman before, you idiota!”

He let her go and turned away as he continued in a quiet voice, “ I was married to Flavia; Antonio & Ernesto’s mother -yes, but there was not a single day when I thought she could be called that. She was an upcoming model and came from respectable family. I married her because I was arrogant and I wanted the best looking girl on my arm. She was that for sure! But our marriage fell apart right from day one, when I realized that I was nothing but a bank balance to her. I stayed put until I found her drugged out of her head one day and trying to harass one of the male staff in the casa.

I threatened divorce. She became pregnant to keep me trapped in the marriage, so that I wouldn’t throw her out. The pre-nup was water-tight and she knew she wouldn’t be able to afford her extravagant lifestyle if I severed her from my money. She wanted just that- her extravagant lifestyle and she certainly had no interest in becoming a parent.  She gave birth to them and then ditched them for her parties and boyfriends.  I bore her for the sake of the boys, knowing they needed a mother. But she had no love to give them. When I finally filed for a divorce and got it, she went crazy. Worse, she threatened and scared Ernesto so badly that the boy still has nightmares. She will never darken the door or come near my sons again.”

His voice while he had been confiding in her had been quite emotionless and pain-free. But now he turned around and she could see the anger in his eyes- anger directed at her, “ Do you think they deserve a mother like that? Do you think I deserved a woman like that though I was foolish enough to marry her?”

Iris was dumbfounded at his angry outburst and his revelation. Her heart hurt at the pain that she and the boys had gone through.

She said, “No, I don’t think the boys deserve that.”

“But I do?” Alessandro smiled at her, mocking her sympathies and shrugged, “I can live with it. Love for a woman has no place in my life. I am happy having them as pleasure partners, but I will try to make sure, if I ever re-marry, the woman will love my sons as her own. They don’t deserve to be without a mother.”

It hurt her very much to know that he didn’t believe in love. There was no chance then, that he could ever fall in love with her or love her. Putting her own misery aside, she focused on his pain. He deserved to know what she meant. In quiet and gentle tones, she said, “No, I meant, I don’t think you or the boys deserve that. But be thankful for what you have.” At his questioning look she said, “The boys. Had you not married her, you’d never have had Ernesto and Antonio. Some good at least came out of it, yes?”

Alessandro looked at her, disbelieving his ears. He had all but accused her for being insensitive and she was trying to show her good in what had been bad all the way? Yet, he couldn’t deny that his sons were one of the best things he valued in his life. He nodded his head and said, “Yes. Si, that is true. But I wish I could give them the happiness they crave. They see mothers of their friends and become sad and I feel powerless. I can’t help but feel sorry for the lack of mother’s love in their lives.”

Iris was astonished to see this side of Alessandro. He sounded sad, but more than that, he sounded helpless. Her heart ached for him. She couldn’t help herself . She went closer to him and laid her head on his chest, saying, “They are lucky to have you Alessandro. Fathers are very important to sons.”

Without replying, Alessandro wrapped his arms around her while she stood with her head on his chest. He felt – at peace. He kissed the hair on her head and said, “Si.”

Iris looked up, trying hard to hide the love that overflowed from her. She stood on her tiptoes and kissed his jaw, a butterfly kiss. Alessandro stood still as she continued giving him butterfly kisses all along his jawline, her tongue hesitantly coming out to lightly lick the cleft on his chin and kissing it. Fire of desire roared high and loud in him but he had the sense to keep still. He knew this was not his moment. This was her moment.


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.