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falguni kothari
It's Your Move, Wordfreak!

It's Your Move, Wordfreak!

Excerpt 3

There she was!

Aryan Rajaram Chawla stared at the tall, striking woman in blue coming his way. He swallowed once, twice and then again, hoping to steady his nerves. Why was he so certain that it was her? Worddiva. But he was. There she was. The phrase had slithered across his mind as soon as he had seen her, like an epiphany.

He stood up as she neared. Her eyes—delicious dark chocolate eyes—grew round and wide. She looked surprised—no shocked—when she saw him.

'Here you go, Madam,' said the maitre d', holding out a chair and pushing it in as she sat. Actually, she plopped down awkwardly with her eyes glued to his.

They sat staring at each other in silence.

Aryan felt an absurd urge to laugh as his disbelief turned slowly into wonder. He grinned, amazed at his good fortune. He cleared his throat, unable still, to utter a word. Her gaze flickered but didn't leave his face, and her lips—full, lush and shiny—parted.

He managed a, 'Hi!' without croaking.

Her eyes closed and her lips trembled. She seemed to be having trouble breathing. Was she praying?

'I...' he began again.

She bolted. There was no other word for it. She shot out of her chair and dashed to the other side of the room, dodging several waiters along the way, leaving him gaping after her.

Aryan snapped his mouth shut and wondered if she had run straight home. Probably not, he deduced spying her silver evening bag lying on the Wenge wood table. Had she needed to use the bathroom? That must be it. But she could have at least told him that, couldn't she, instead of scaring him half to death with her hit-and-run act.

Women, Aryan reflected philosophically, were from Venus. A man wasn't meant to understand them.

She was lovely. Whatever he had hoped Worddiva to look like, she surpassed all his expectations. She was tall and lean with a dusky-rose complexion that looked amazing in the strappy blue dress. Her features were delicate, almost waif-like, for such a statuesque woman. And her eyes—those gorgeous chocolate eyes—had nearly swallowed her face as she had stared at him.

He smiled as the head waiter approached the table. Aryan was a regular patron at the restaurant and the man knew his preferences well. It was a great place with a superb chef. Worddiva had chosen the venue for this date, though. He wondered if she came here often and if she lived in its vicinity.

'We have something new on the wine list, Sir. It will be to your taste.'

'Give me a few minutes, Baban. I don't know what the lady wants, yet.'

'Take your time, Sir.' Baban left him to wait.

Aryan waited and waited, alternately drumming his fingers or passing one finger over the flame of the tea light set in the middle of the table. Baban strolled in his direction once more only to turn around at Aryan's irritated look.

It took awhile, but she did, eventually, come out of the bathroom. She looked refreshed—no, that wasn't the right word—she looked composed. Serenity emanated from her bearing. Gone were the shocked expression and the uneven gait from before. She looked poised and ready to take on the world. It amused him.

'I'm sorry for that...crazy behaviour. But I haven't been well the last week or so and...everything was just too...much,' she said haltingly. She picked up a glass of water and gulped. Then she whooshed out a breath and looked him straight in the eye. 'You...you are Wordfreak, right?' she asked.

'I am and it's alright. We all have our moments,' he said full of suave charm.

She rolled her eyes, mocking herself or him or them both. And just like that, she bowled him over.

This was the woman he had come to meet. This was the woman who had haunted him for the last five months. The impish, politically incorrect, spectacularly funny female who had argued and debated and called him a fool so many times that he had lost count.

Their online chats were enchanting; their scrabble competitions, exhilarating.

She had captivated him even before he had laid eyes on her. And now? Now, she had knocked him flat out.

'What's your name?' He wanted to know, he had to know.

She leaned back in her chair and bit her lip. 'Can we just leave it at Wordfreak and Worddiva? Please, just until it's a little less embarrassing and a little more comfortable.'

'There's nothing to be embarrassed about,' he said quietly.

She put her hands on her cheeks and gave a small rueful laugh. Her actions, dainty and sweet, made him want to lean across and kiss her. But that would probably kick up her embarrassment to blushing levels.

'Of course, it's embarrassing...we are complete strangers.'

'I would hardly call us strangers. After all the things we've chatted about in the last few months? I think we know each other rather well.'

'That's overstating things a bit. Anyway, that was virtual chatting through the buffer of a computer. The reality, the physical reality of meeting you, is a little overwhelming, for me at least.' Her eyes begged for understanding.

'Fine, have it your way. For now,' Aryan acquiesced reluctantly.

Aryan sighed. She was right, damn it. They were virtual strangers, even if they'd been chatting almost every night for the last few months. The anonymity that type of communication afforded had given them a false sense of security and an unreal level of comfort. They'd exchanged no names, no information—no personal baggage of any sort. It had been wonderfully refreshing.

'What will you have to drink?' he asked.

Baban was hovering close by, not wanting to intrude. Aryan signaled for him to come closer.

'I'll start with a mushroom soup and then the paneer tikka panini,' she instructed Baban not bothering with the menu confirming Aryan's suspicion that she did frequent the cafe.

'Don't you want anything to drink? Soda? A glass of wine, maybe?' Aryan asked her.

'Water's fine. I...ah...don't have wine. I rarely drink anything alcoholic,' she confessed.

Aryan blinked. Wow! He didn't think he knew anyone who did not drink. He shrugged and ordered a single glass of Louis Jadot, Beaujolais '07, at Baban's recommendation, and then his dinner choices—a garden vegetable soup and the chicken casserole.

'Is it a religious thing?' he asked.

'It's a my-body-cannot-tolerate-alcohol sort of thing.' She grinned, mischief lighting up her face.

The cheeky woman was imitating his faint but discernable Harry Potter accent, although very badly he noted. 'Ah! I see,' he exclaimed, deepening his accent deliberately.

She laughed outright. 'I do drink occasionally. It doesn't suit me. I get weird.'

'Next time then,' Aryan said. Getting weird sounded very promising, a situation loaded with possibilities.

'I'm also a vegetarian.' She dropped that bomb very casually.

Aryan shook his head. God had a strange sense of humour and this proved it. The perfect woman was sitting right in front of him telling him that she was not only imperfect but may be his polar opposite.

'Will you have a problem with the chicken at the table?'

'No,' she shrugged, 'just thought I'd mention it.' Her eyes narrowed. 'How old are you?' she asked.

'Twenty-five, almost twenty-six. Why?' A small white lie, he'd turned twenty-five only a month ago. Aryan clenched his jaw tight to keep from laughing.

He knew where this was going. He already knew that Worddiva was twenty-eight. But he had never disclosed his age to her. Very early in their acquaintance, she had snidely remarked on how stupid and childish men in their twenties behaved. How they were incapable of mature action and serious conversation. So, he had purposely not told her his own pathetically immature age.

She looked appalled. Aryan burst out laughing, thoroughly enjoying her distress.

'Oh my god,' she squeaked out. She looked ready to bolt again.

He was not letting her go that easily. It had taken him two months of schmoozing to get her to meet him. He braced himself to grab her if she so much as looked at the exit.

'It's no big deal,' he said, dismissively.

'Maybe not for you,' she retorted.

'So I'm two years younger than you. So bloody what?'

'Three years. You're a baby,' she exaggerated.

More like three and a half but he wasn't admitting that, yet. 'Do you want to see how completely un-babyish I am?' It was crude but he couldn't help it. He was annoyed.

'"Don't be an ass. See you just proved my point with your infantile high school humour.' She had the gall to raise her eyebrows at him.

'What has age got to do with anything? Besides, you did not complain about my high school humour while chatting. If I recall correctly, you happily enjoyed it.'

But before they could argue further, their soups arrived.

© Falguni Kothari

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