For rest of the day, Prithvi kept roaming around, window shopping and Stuti headed back to her office to finish her pending work. At sharp 7 p.m., Prithvi reached the lounge and saw Stuti, waiting for him.

“I thought, I’ll be the one to wait.” He smiled and shook hands before settling down. Prithvi glanced at the menu card and tried to pick out something that would not be heavy on his already light wallet.

“I prefer Jack on the rocks, what’s your choice?” Stuti asked and gestured the waiter to take the order.

“That’s cool with me. It’s one of my favourites too.” Prithvi immediately looked at the price. Stuti could see that and kept her hand on the menu and spoke.

“Treat is on me today.” She smiled and took the menu card away from him. Their drinks arrived with a bowl of exotic dry fruits, salted and roasted. She thanked the waiter and turned to Prithvi, leaning forward on the table and resting her chin on her crossed fingers. Prithvi was again breathing heavily.

“Tell me what’s your calculation about royalty that you expect from the novel. I want to know what’s on your mind.” Stuti took the sip of her drink and popped an almond.

“Okay…” Taking a big swig of his drink, Prithvi took a deep breath and continued.

“As much as I know, my novel will carry something around 450 pages. The cost of printing is not more than 50 rupees per copy.” Prithvi paused to have another sip and then continued. Stuti was all ears and somewhat impressed with the information Prithvi had about the publishing businesses.

“Add 50 rupees more to every copy and that will include other expenses including marketing and that adds to the total cost of the book to 100 rupees. So in short, the in-house cost per book to the publication house is 100 rupees.” Prithvi paused again but this time for Stuti to respond.

“Go ahead, you have my undivided attention.” Stuti replied and finished her drinks. She gestured the waiter to repeat. After the waiter left, Prithvi continued.

“Now, if my calculations are accurate, the retail price of any book with around 450 pages is 380 rupees in the market. The distributor gets the copy at 360 rupees, leaving the profit of 260 per copy.” Prithvi took another big swig of his Jack.

“And you want the royalty of 112 per copy? Which is very high for any reputed author in the market.” Stuti raised her eyebrows.

“Ya…” Prithvi’s lips twitched again. His expectations were somewhere far beyond the reach. Moments of silence prevailed on their table.

“You said you can help me.” Prithvi after taking a heavy sigh spoke. Stuti was cuddling the ice cube in her glass, she didn’t reply.

“Are you fine?” Prithvi asked looking at her.

“What’s the sale you expect?” Stuti asked still looking at her glass.

“All I want is a two million copies sale. I know it’s a big thing but it can be achieved if the publication house works wholeheartedly on it.” Prithvi cleared it before Stuti could ask him anything further.

“And if your novel is sold more than two million copies then…?” Stuti gulped down the remnants of Jack from her glass and gestured waiter to repeat the order.

Prithvi could not understand where the conversation was headed. Looking at his state, Stuti cleared her question.

“You said you want the royalty for two million copies. If your book sale crosses two million then what you will do?” Stuti asked taking a few nuts from the bowl.

“I will not take a single penny after that. Half of my royalty will go to publication house and half will be equally distributed in the accounts of the employees of the house.” Prithvi too finished his drink before another round was served.

“Excuse me. What did you just say?” Stuti could not comprehend the words utter by Prithvi. The waiter served another round and left.

“Exactly what you heard. I know it sounds weird but if you think from my point of view it’s just a return favour to those who helped me establish myself as an author.” Prithvi smiled and leaned back, chewing some more almonds.

“You said, you wanted money to have the life you had dreamt for and now you say that you will wave off your income? I think it is really weird.” Stuti was quite surprised.

Prithvi kept smiling and enjoyed his drink. He was now relaxed as he has opened his heart out in front of Stuti about his book.

“Now you tell me, how you can help?” Prithvi leaned back on his sofa and passed the ball in her court.

“Give me a week’s time, I’ll try to get a publisher for you.” Stuti spoke looking him straight into the eyes. Now, Prithvi was shocked.

“But how? I mean, are you working with some publication house or do you have some good contacts?” Prithvi was visibly anxious now.

“Leave that to me. Just give me a week and I’ll try my level best for it.” Stuti finished her drink and continued.

“Again, I am not assuring you anything. But promise I’ll try my best.” Stuti leaned forward and spoke.

“Stuti…” Again, before Prithvi could say anything, Stuti spoke.

“I’ll answer all your questions once we get your book published. Till then, please, don’t pester me with anymore.” Stuti tapped his hand, assuring him that she will genuinely try.

“As you say…” Prithvi fumbled for words that were beyond his reach.

They ordered the dinner and exchanged their contact details.

Next day, Prithvi left for his hometown in Gujarat and continued with his routine. Though he was back to his routine, his mind was back in Mumbai. The last meeting with Stuti had ignited some hope in his heart. The urge to call her kept pushing him hard but somehow, he controlled it. He didn’t want to sound like a despo in any aspect.

The week was about to end and Prithvi’s patience was running out. He had already decided on his way back from work that he’ll call Stuti in the evening around 7.

Prithvi went to CCD for his coffee and to have some time for himself. He had barely sipped his coffee when his cell buzzed. He glanced at the screen of his cell and smiled. He couldn’t thank God much for it, it was Stuti’s call.

“I was planning to call you today.” Prithvi spoke running his hand through his hair.

“I know. Now listen.” Stuti paused as she walked into the kitchen of her penthouse.

“Ya, say.” Prithvi bit his nails now. He didn’t know what was coming next.

“Can you come tomorrow?” Stuti didn’t mention why.

“Ya fine, what time should I reach?” Prithvi was immediately checking the dates.

“As early as possible, better if we can catch up for breakfast.” Stuti replied making coffee for herself.

“Okay, I’ll take the early morning flight and by 8:30 a.m., I’ll be out of the airport.” Saying so, Prithvi immediately logged onto his laptop and booked the ticket for an early flight.

“Fine then, see you at breakfast tomorrow.” Stuti clicked off before Prithvi could ask anything further.

His heartbeats were spiked high with an adrenaline shot. He quickly finished his coffee and went home to do the packing. He still had not yet booked a hotel room.

“Will do it after breakfast.” Prithvi said to himself as he exactly didn’t know how long he’d need to stay in Mumbai.

Later that evening, a message from Stuti popped up on his cell phone screen.

“Do prepare the synopsis of your novel, not more than 500 words.” Now that takes hours together. Prithvi finished dinner and shut himself in his study to go through his novel and prepare a short synopsis according to the instructions given by Stuti.

Only a couple of hours were left for Prithvi to board the flight. He ditched his sleep and left for the airport after a quick shower. On the way, he checked his credit limits on the card. Enough, but not high enough.

Prithvi walked out of the airport around 8 and dialled Stuti’s no.

“Good morning, I am just walking out of the airport. Tell me, where are we gonna meet?” Prithvi asked lighting his smoke.

“They will fine you for smoking. Stab it immediately.” Stuti said as she could see Prithvi outside the arrivals gate. She was sitting in her car in the back seat.

“Where are you?” Shocked Prithvi, immediately stabbed his smoke and tried to scan every person waiting at arrival to receive their guests.

Stuti’s driver reached out to Prithvi and asked him to come to the car with him. Stuti stepped out of the car. She was all dressed in business formals, black formal pencil skirt just up to her knees with a royal blue, pinstriped formal shirt.

Prithvi looked at her from top to toe, admiring her dressing sense. Stuti caught his eyes and blushed.

“I am already feeling like V.I.P.” Prithvi said as they shook hands gently. The driver was already at wheels and waited for them to get in.

Stuti didn’t instruct the driver as it had already been done before Prithvi had arrived. They reached the Marriott hotel for breakfast. The table had already been reserved well in advance for them. Once they were settled with their breakfast, Stuti spoke.

“You seem to be in a good mood.” She dug into her broccoli salad.

“I don’t know about the mood but my spirits are quite high.” Prithvi responded and had a bite of his garlic bread.

“Good for you.” Stuti still kept things to herself only.

“So, what’s the plan?” Prithvi asked, barely able to conceal his anxiety.

“An empty stomach can never achieve what a man wants.” Stuti smiled and continued.

“We will be heading to the office of the publication house. I have lined up a meeting for you.” Stuti winked at him.

Prithvi had been expecting this deep down in his heart but still, it was a surprising shock for him. His joy knew no bounds.

“Am I dressed properly or should I change? Do I need to carry the hard copy of the synopsis?” Before Prithvi could ask any more questions, Stuti raised her hand and said.

“Relax, it’s just a formal meeting. They will go through your work and if they find it credible, they will proceed ahead.” Stuti sipped her juice.

“Gosh, I am so nervous. How did you manage to get…” Again, Prithvi was cut short by her.

“After the meeting, all your questions will be answered. Right now, stay focused on what’s more important.”

They finished the breakfast and headed straight to their destination, where Prithvi’s fate would be sealed.

“I had always loved fancy cars.” Prithvi spoke as he saw the Jaguar passing by them.

“Which is your favourite car?” Stuti asked.

“I like the hatchback, Mini Cooper convertible it’s my favourite. If I get this book thing done as per my way, it will be the first car I’ll buy. It is my first dream car.” Prithvi replied with a smile on his face.

Stuti stared at him straight into his eyes, trying to see through his mind.

“Is he playing with me?” Stuti said to herself in her head. No one, except her friends and family, knew that Stuti drove Mini Cooper convertible. It was her first dream car too.

“Anything wrong?” Prithvi asked as he saw Stuti staring at him blankly.

“Nothing.” Stuti waved off his question and broke her stare. They reached their destination. Prithvi held his laptop and diary and was visibly nervous.

“What will they ask?” Prithvi was now almost getting on her nerves.

“Relax, it’s not some sort of interview.” Stuti smiled as their lift reached to the ninth floor, the office of the publication house.

As they walked in, everyone greeted Stuti and Prithvi followed her, admiring the interior of the office. It was far better than any corporate office with different workspace for a different type of work. It was all in all, a modern concept.

Stuti walked into the office and walked to the other side of the table and occupied the seat. Prithvi saw it and his jaw dropped down. Stuti only smiled. She ordered for coffee on her intercom and sat across Prithvi, leaning in her boss chair.

“Are you the boss?” Prithvi was still perplexed and stared at her like a lost kid.

Stuti kept smiling with her finger touching her lower lip. She was now kind of enjoying the plight of Prithvi. Coffee arrived and she passed the glass of water to him to settle down.

“Read this.” Stuti passed a file of the document to him.

“Tell me first, you the boss here?” Prithvi’s heart was pounding like a wild beast that would break his ribs at any moment.

“Read the file.” Stuti’s authoritative tone silenced Prithvi and he went through the file, word by word, of the document. It was an agreement signed by M.D., STUTI MALHOTRA.

Prithvi closed his eyes and tried to take a few deep breaths before reacting. Everything he said to Stuti about how he wants his novel to be published and the royalty he expected was in it. It had already been approved.

An add-on in the agreement was, the publication house will pay him the royalty of the first million copies in advance and rest will be paid after the sale crosses two million.

Prithvi felt his head would blow out. He walked to the French window of the office and looked at the bustling city. A tear rolled down from the corner of his eye. His dream had come true.

Stuti walked to him and kept a hand on his shoulder. Prithvi closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Why?” That was all, Prithvi could ask.

“It’s not only your dream. It was mine too.” Stuti’s eyes too turned moist.

Prithvi was in no state to comprehend anything more. He was feeling breathless with a volley of questions firing in his head.

“Sign the contract dear and I promise I’ll answer your WHY.” Stuti spoke almost in a low whisper over his shoulder.

Prithvi wiped his tears and they sat back to sign the contract. Stuti called her secretary and asked to get a copy of the contract. They finished the other formalities that were needed and headed for lunch.

“Where are you staying?” Stuti asked and that reminded Prithvi that he still had not booked the hotel.

“I haven’t booked yet. I mean, I didn’t know how long I need to stay so I thought I will book it after the meeting.” Prithvi replied running his hand through his hair.

“Can you stay for today?” Stuti asked.

“Ya, of course, I am in no hurry to return.” Prithvi gave a smile, a smile of satisfaction.

“And you can stay at my place.” Stuti added.

“No, no, no… How can I ?” Prithvi clearly denied.

“It’s fine. I stay alone and you can trust me. After all, you want answers of the questions running wild and free in your head.” Stuti knocked his head and smiled.

“Take the keys.” She passed her mini cooper’s key along with her flat keys once they were done with lunch.

“Go home and rest. I’ll see you in the evening.” Stuti smiled recomposed her office state as she headed back to her office. She dropped the location ping of her house on Prithvi’s cell.

“You desperately need some rest.” Stuti said and returned back to her work.

Prithvi could not say anything more than just thanks and walked out of the office. He drove to her flat and kept his bag and other stuff in one corner and walked into the shower. Steam of hot shower helped him in cooling down his nerves.

Prithvi slept for don’t know how long, but when he opened his eyes he saw Stuti sitting in the chair at the corner of the bed and looking at him.

“Hey, when did you come? Sorry, I didn’t realize, I guess, was dog tired.” Prithvi replied sheepishly and got up from the bed.

“You really look very adorable when in deep sleep, just like an infant sleeping in the lap of the mother.” Stuti smiled and walked out to the main hall.

Prithvi immediately freshened up and joined her. Stuti was sitting with her legs stretched on the glass tea table and looking outside the door that led to the terrace garden. Prithvi came and sat on the couch adjacent to her. Stuti let her neck rest back as she leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Prithvi waited for her to talk.

“There was someone in my life who made me capable of what I am today.” Stuti spoke with closed eyes and a heavy sigh. Prithvi stayed quiet and let her talk.

“His name was Parth and he too wanted to be the aspiring author, just like you. His dream was very similar to yours.” Tears rolled down her eyes. She opened her eyes and looked at Prithvi.

“Luck was not in his favour. Before he could finish his novel and achieve his dream, God had him.” Stuti’s voice began to quiver. Prithvi got up from his couch and sat down next to her and held her hand.

“I was with him when he was fighting his last battle on the hospital bed. He was suffering from leukaemia.” Stuti could not speak more. Prithvi got up to get some water for her. Stuti got up and walked to the terrace and sat on the couch there.

“He took a promise from me that, I’ll finish, his unfinished work but I couldn’t. There was not a single day I could sleep without feeling guilty for not being able to do what he asked for.” Stuti sipped some water and continued. She wiped her tears and composing herself back looked at Prithvi and continued.

“And then, everything in my world changed, you came. I could see him in you. The way you talked, the way you got anxious, every damn thing about you is very identical as if he had been returned to me in your form. I couldn’t believe that life had given me another chance to achieve his dream in the form of your work.” Stuti wiped her tears and looked at Prithvi whose eyes turned moist too.

“His dream car too was Mini Cooper convertible and that’s why I brought it.” Stuti gave a lopsided smile. Prithvi hugged her for the first time.

They sat for the rest of the night silently staring at the stars in the sky, both thanking their stars for bringing such wonder someday of their life which entwined their fates forever…

Written by: Hemang 
Sketch: Paranj Sankdecha



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