The Billionaire and his Painter- Chapter 4
The world likes weak women. We gotta change that people.
Vansh felt his rigid composure slacken when he heard her sobs from the other side of the door. He felt a pang on his chest when he heard her trying to muffle her soft cries.
He was shocked to see her in front of his building few hours ago. Four people obstructed his way yet his eyes were only fixed on her. Never in his dreams had he expected to meet her again in this life.
Why would he? He had made sure to never let people from past make an uproar at his present.
His life was filled with enough miseries and unwelcomed troubles. He was over and done with them. The last thing he wanted was for someone from his past to catch up and pretend to build a safe home for him.
The walls would not even last for a day.
He was shocked and surprised when he saw the glee in her round, hazel eyes. Her auburn hair was tied in a pony, few wavy locks naturally falling on her face. Freckles had found its way on her soft skin. She hadn’t grown an inch physically. The small, petite figure that one would find easy to hunt. But she would say ‘I am small but don’t you dare look down on me.’
He was startled to see his best friend standing in front of him with just as surprised expression.
She had grown beautifully. She was now a woman. A beautiful woman. Someone very different from the girl he knew. She did not look like the sweet, bubbly girl anymore. Youthfulness still sparkled in her skin but there was something amiss when her eyes looked back at him.
“What wrong did I ever do to you?” Her muffled voice spoke in agony with the hurt he gifted her.
He desperately wanted to stop those cries. To stop her from rising a storm in his heart. The guilt of hurting her was flooding his mind. Even years later, she managed to make him feel things. Things he had desperately tried to discard over the years.
Vansh stood there till he stopped hearing her cry and muffled sniffles. He stood there until he was sure that she was alright.
Pursing his lips, he tapped his feet trying to cast away the emotions his heart carried and weighed him down. His whole being had turned restless after seeing her.
‘Three f**king years!’ He thought.
Three years since he ran away from that shitty place. From the place where he had spent 21 years of his life.
When the door knob rattled behind him, Vansh quickly worked on his feet and tapped the lift button. Before the elevator door closed, his eyes stayed fix on the spot he stood seconds ago.
When the door opened and she appeared, he exhaled heavily without realising how long he was holding his breath.
Her eyes marked with hue of redness locked with his. They were painted with hurt and agony. A whisper of accusation somewhere hiding amidst all the emotions she expressed yet he could see it loud and distinctly.
Vansh held his gaze, for what he didn’t know but when she tore away her eyes before the elevator door closed, his heart skipped a beat on its own. The realisation quickly hit him. She was not going to forgive him. It was good for him but he never wanted this.
Riddhima was never the girl to forget things. She took her own time to forgive people.
‘I don’t like it Vansh but that is how I process.’ She used to say.
Riddhima’s lips quivered and she swallowed trying to get a hold on herself. She can not let people from the past resurrect themselves and behave on their own accord with her. One mistake was enough for her to learn. People cannot invite themselves and leave whenever they wished. She was past that phase of her life.
“Hey why are you here and not in the restroom as promised?” The voice of Ishani broke her trance.
She stood demandingly in front of her with arms akimbo, but once she noticed the look in Riddhima’s face she realised something was wrong. Concern took over her as she hugged her immediately.
“What’s wrong babe?”
Riddhima tried to not cry again. She disliked herself for being a cry baby but when you see your childhood best friend and long time crush after three years who is nothing but rude and cold and calls you pathetic, will you not feel the hurt and eventually cry?
Ishani ushered her back to the bed and asked her again. “Tell me Ridz, what happened? Are you hurt?”
Riddhima sucked in a deep breath and shook her head. Gulping away the bubbles of emotions, she finally let it out. “I met Vansh.”
“Vansh? As in your bestfriend, Vansh?” Ishani raised her brows in question.
“So that’s good, I guess?” Ishani said unsure, considering the situation.
Riddhima wiped her cheeks and stood up with resolution. “No Ish. He has turned into a jackass and demeaning. We must not talk about him anymore.”
Ishani looked puzzled. “Why? I don’t understand.”
Riddhima chewed her bottom lip as she looked at her friend while thinking something. “Let’s just ignore him like we ignore carbs because that makes us put on weight?”
“So he is toxic?”
“As hell.” Riddhima finished.
Ishani smiled and raised her pinky finger in the air in a promise.
“Who knew he was the one giving you headache?” Ishani said humorously while typing away the essence of her painting in the laptop.
The narrow, long table was occupied by the four of them. William and Benjamin took their own space at each corner and Ridhima and Ishani took one corner of the table. They were asked to write about the idea behind their painting and the message they wanted to convey through it.
Riddhima glared at her best friend for bringing the conversation around him. “Can we stop talking about him?”
“Why didn’t you tell me he is so handsome Ridz?” Ishani murmured inching her chair closer to her.
Riddhima tried to ignore her while refraining from saying anything to the curious woman beside her.
“Or that we were supposed to be working under him?” Ishani prompted further.
“That’s because I didn’t know.” Riddhima uttered while looking up from the screen to her friend.
“Didn’t know that he is handsome?” Ishani teased knowingly.
“That he is running the company.” Riddhima rested her case mentally and focussed on the work at hand.
When it was time to pen down the inspiration behind her painting, she realised how strangely the table had turned. What was once her inspiration had now blemished their friendship.
She found it unnerving to put her thoughts into words. What she felt earlier before she had first stroked the brush on that blank canvas and what she felt now were completely opposite.
Estranged was the word she wanted to use. The present feeling of alienation to any relation they had was obstructing her thought process.
Ishani nudged her arm to grasp her attention and scooted closer if possible. “Come on Ridz, if you don’t tell me what exactly happened it’s going to be hard to hate him you know?”
Riddhima sensed the insinuation and glared at her, finally giving up.
She sucked in a sharp breath before speaking. “Well, he seem to have forgotten that we were friends…” She started while looking at the ceiling. “…and he thinks I got here by some help.” Her voice broke as she started feeling a lump in her throat.
“And … and he called me pathetic.” Riddhima felt her throat clog while she tried to keep her emotions at bay.
Her best friend immediately regretted forcing her to share their previous encounter.
“You called him a jackass!” She muttered.
Riddhima looked at her friend with disbelief. “Because he is Ish. Did you not hear a word of what I said?”
“He is more than a jackass Ridz. He is a motherf**king a*sh*le. A dumb piece of shit.” Ishani frailed her hands trying to encapsulate the anger she felt.
“He is a pathetic, helpless coward. A f**king douchebag.” Ishani finished exasperatedly. “You don’t let his dumb words affect you, woman.”
Riddhima tried to hide the smile creeping up her face as she pursed her lips. She nodded and raised her forefinger in agreement. “Indeed.”
“How can you let him talk to you like that?” Ishani complained in utter ire. “You need to teach him a lesson.”
“He doesn’t believe that I am here for my skills. He thinks I am incompetent.” Riddhima said looking at her friend but her eyes told she was in her own trance. “And I am going to prove him wrong. I’ll make him regret for ever saying that. For behaving the way he did.”
“That’s not enough. We need to teach him the harsh way.” Ishani said to herself with determination.
“Teach whom what?” Cole interrupted their conversation.
“Nothing Mr. Lawrence.” Riddhima quickly jutted.
“So have you guys prepared your draft?” Cole asked rubbing his hands while taking his own seat near to Benjamin.
“We will need a little more time, Mr. Lawrence.” Benjamin said.
“You all are too focused on perfection. And I totally understand that. But the draft is not the main article.” Cole stated staring straight at Benjamin.
They all looked at him attentively as he continued. “I need the draft so that I can partner each of you with other candidates to write an article about your painting. You will share your ideas and thoughts with them and they will help you put your thoughts into words.”
“Other candidates?” Ishani questioned.
“Yes, these candidates were selected just like you all and will be trained under us. Our aim is to give your painting a voice and they will help you with that.”
“So when will they join us?” Benjamin asked straightforward, while gaining Cole’s attention to himself.
“They will be joining tomorrow. So your draft must be prepared by… tonight?” Cole hinted.
“Yes that’s enough time. We will be done by then.” Benjamin said for everyone.
“Great. You can have a tour of the company campus meanwhile. I will be moving ahead with my work.” Cole said before dismissing them. He gave a quick glance to Ben over his shoulder before heading away.
Once he left the room, all of them looked at Benjamin apprehensively.
“What was that?” Ishani asked with mirth in her voice.
“What was what?” Benjamin played dumb.
“That ogling and eye talking Ben!”
“What bullshit!” Ben grumbled.
“Deny it as much but your cheeks are still red honey.” Ishani teased poking him.
“He is so fine. I didn’t know he was into men.” Ishani said feigning disappointed.
“Leave the poor boy, Ish. He is embarassed already.” Riddhima came to the rescue as she winked at Ben. “Let’s go grab some lunch.”
She pulled Ishani out the room and headed to the cafeteria. Riddhima rubbed her tummy as it grumbled audibly. “I am hungry.”
William followed them while hastily putting the papers into his bag and loosing some to the floor. “Wait up, guys!”
“You go ahead. I will wait for him.” Ishani said realising how hungry her friend was and went to help William pickup his draft.
Riddhima munched on the hamburger she ordered and waited for her companions to show up. The clock at the cafeteria chimed when it hit 1pm and people started rushing in within minutes. When she was done with her lunch, she quickly vacated the table and typed a message to Ishani.
I’ll be at the practice room for a while. See you at the hotel.
Vansh shuffled the files impatiently waiting for the meeting to finish. The members took turns to keep their point of the discussion and waited for any counter argument.
Vansh dismissed the meeting as quickly as possible and called Cole to his office.
“Did the paintings arrive?”
“Yes. Just this morning, sir.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s on the 23rd floor where we have decided to give them their own space for creativity.” Cole replied enthusiastically.
Cole had always loved the different aspects of art. The variations it can bring and the change it can reflect over each minds. He had been working in the company for years and Vansh was more than delighted to hand him the creative department.
He didn’t want to be a part of it and wanted safe hands to handle it and he trusted Cole with it.
“Although I am afraid to inform sir, one of the candidate has asked for privacy and doesn’t want to reveal it yet.”
Vansh raised a brow with mockery and interest. He already had an idea of who the candidate was.
“And why is that?”
“I assure you it is very sublime and extraordinary, if I may.” Cole asserted confidently. “I haven’t seen such piece of art in a long time. I don’t know why she is not ready though.”
“Did you sign any documents regarding that?” Vansh asked.
“Not yet, sir.”
“Perfect.” Vansh said leaving the chair. “I want to have a look of this extraordinaire painting you say.”
Once back in her own space, Riddhima felt herself relax and her nerves immediately calmed. Stretching her arms, she moaned when her bones crackled.
Keeping her bag at the bench, she admired the space. Portraits and canvases were supported on the woods. The finished ones were hung on the length of the wall. The pastel shade of background emphasised the beauty of each painting.
The floor was earlier messed with colours but now it was cleaned. She walked to her own spot where her name was written in black on the log of wood.
She felt enthralled when she brushed her fingers over the print. Her canvas was still empty.
They were given the task to bring in something they had experienced in the city on the first day of the trip.
But what was she supposed to draw?
Her first day was nothing but deplorable. She didn’t want to paint something that welcomed pity.
The brush on the sides were waiting to be held and used but she was not in the state to do that.
The aim of the task was to stay connected to their passion and to not discontinue what brought them here. And now she was being of no help to herself.
To the side, the canvas of her friends were standing rather proudly. She decided to give herself some more time to colour the blank board.
The selected canvases were on one side of the wall carefully put and covered for protection. Only one was missing among them.
She had earlier asked Mr. Lawrence to provide confidentiality to her painting. Once she realised that Vansh was the one behind this successful company, she felt vulnerable to reveal the idea behind her portrait lest showing it to all of them.
She was embarassed enough to show it to her friends. Riddhima considered herself lucky that Mr. Cole understood the message and didn’t made her feel uneasy for painting something like that and chose it for the programme.
The three paintings before her were no less of a masterpiece. She particularly admired Benjamin’s work. It was really a beautiful showcase of the LGBTQ community.
The door of the room opened and closed begetting her to turn around. She didn’t let her self lose her calm and followed his moves as he stopped by the edge of her painting.
“Riddhima.” His voice came out a whisper.
Her chest constricted bizzarely when her name left his lips. She didn’t acknowledge him however and turned around ignoring his presence.
Vansh welcomed himself to scour around the room. He had never stepped into this part of the building before. The reminder of colours and brushes made him sick. He walked around the room slowly looking at each art accentuating the room.
It was a strange feeling to be in the room.
He stopped by her canvas blankly staring at the white board. He somehow felt even the empty canvas mocking him for being untouched.
Ignoring the uneasiness, he treaded towards where she stood and looked at the three shielded canvases for long. “Where is yours?”
Riddhima didn’t say anything and moved away from his warmth that tried to envelope her. She was scared that it would oddly feel home.
She looked at him skeptically and replied monotonously. “You can’t see it.”
“Why?” He drawled.
“It’s confidential for now.” She muttered. “Only Mr. Lawrence is allowed to see it.”
“That is not how it works, darling.” Vansh said without realising the impact of his words.
Riddhima felt her composure on the verge of collapsing. She blinked away the memory when he used to call her with endearments and actually meant it, unlike now.
Vansh treaded towards her blocking her exit and leaned in to whisper. “Let me have a look of it so I can confirm that that is what brought you here.”
Riddhima felt goosebumps rise up her skin as his breath fanned over her ear-shell. Taking a step away to mark her territory, she narrowed her eyes and retorted. “What made you think I care, Mr. Singhania?”
The colour from his face dulled as she pushed aside his arm to grab her bag.
“So you do not trust yourself? Is that why you are hiding it?” He retaliated in ire.
“Although I am not a fan of your presumptive nature, I believe this?…” Riddhima raised her hand drawing an imaginary line in the air. “is not your limit.”
Vansh felt shame and anger charge his body at how degrading her remark was thrown towards him. But no words came out his mouth as she left the room and shut the door with equal force as he did that morning.
He was finally tasting his own medicine. And God, did it taste bitter.
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