Anaya Gupta walked on the stage with a flawless smile. After seeing her in the simple attire and realizing the girl was of modest means, Varun’s lips curved into a mild smile.
“Varun, doesn’t she look like a college girl?” Aman said, but Varun didn’t hear him. His concentration was on the stage.
That was when Mr. Kashyap ran inside the auditorium and sat with them.
“Thank God I didn’t miss it… I was on a call,” he said, panting.
Varun smiled slightly at him, then looked at the stage.
The hosts of the ceremony were the famous TV personalities, Raj Malhotra and Vaishali Pandey.
After announcing the Fresh Face of the Year award and seeing Anaya Gupta gliding to the stage, Raj Malhotra rushed to the podium and hid behind it.
“I don’t want to be beaten up,” he said, looking at Anaya. The audience laughed.
Even Aman laughed, tapping the table. But Varun was watching for Anaya’s reaction to Raj’s taunt. She casually walked to Vaishali and took the mic from her hand.
“Raj will be safe because he knows survival skills,” she said with a cute smile, making the audience applaud.
Vaishali Pandey handed Anaya the award and hugged her. Taking the award, Anaya started walking, but she stopped when Vaishali spoke.
“Do you have a few words for us, Anaya?”
“My arrival to the modeling field was an accident—”
“A beautiful accident,” interrupted Raj Malhotra. He hid behind the podium again, filling the auditorium with a wave of laughter.
“Don’t be scared, Raj. I won’t hit anyone without a valid reason,” Anaya said, smiling.
“I may give you a reason if I come closer to you,” Raj said, making the audience whoop.
Anaya laughed. “Then you should stay away from me.”
“I don’t care if you hit me, but I would like to ask you something.”
“What?” Anaya asked, waving the mic slightly as if it was a stick.
“You should have become a teacher,” Raj said.
“What do you want to ask her?” Vaishali Pandey insisted.
“I would like to meet your father, who is the reason for your beauty.” Raj blushed.
“Oh ho… Do you want to die so soon?” Anaya asked.
“Why? Is he more dangerous than you?”
“No… He is so sweet, unlike me, but he is no more.”
The auditorium went silent.
“I’m sorry…,” Raj apologized.
“It’s okay. You can meet my mother, who is equally involved in my beauty,” Anaya said, and got a big round of applause.
Varun, who was watching her with a smile, chuckled.
“As Raj said, I should have become a teacher. I don’t know why I am here, but I believe everything has a reason. I am curious to know the reason for my presence in the modeling field.
“Well… I would like to dedicate this award to my Amma.” She raised her hand with the award. “Amma, this is for you.”
“It seems she is a family-oriented girl,” Aman said.
Varun glared at him.
“No, no, Varun, I didn’t mean—”
“I don’t mind even though you taunt me. She has a supportive family, unlike me. It’s not my fault,” Varun said with a grumpy expression.
“I am sorry, Varun. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“Leave it… I don’t want to spoil my mood on this occasion.”
“He always gets upset whenever he remembers his family,” Aman muttered, turning back to the stage.
“Anaya, I don’t know what other people think about you, but you are a nice person,” Raj said.
“Thank you.” Anaya handed the mic back and walked offstage, receiving loud applause from the audience.
Varun saw Mr. Kashyap giving her a standing ovation.
Interesting… The public view of Anaya Gupta had changed with a single speech and her quick wit with the hosts.
Varun switched his gaze to Anaya, who was hugging a girl and looking for Mr. Kashyap. Kashyap raised his hand. Anaya smiled and walked toward him, bringing the girl with her.
Varun thought she would hug Mr. Kashyap, but, to his surprise, she touched his feet and handed the trophy to him.
“Thank you, uncle. It’s because of you,” she said, tucking her hair behind her ear.
Her hand stopped when her eyes fell on the handsome man in the silver-gray suit, sitting at the same table with Kashyap.
Her eyes softened. She gulped, blinking slowly. A tentative smile rose in her eyes. Varun was breathless in the face of such an innocent expression.
It was not new for him to be ogled. He had crossed many hawking and lustful looks. He just brushed them away like dust. But this… He could not name the look in which he was drowning.
There was no lust, no desire, but something… What was that? A kind of hope? Or adoration? He didn’t know.
“Anaya…” Kashyap shook her shoulder, which brought her back to the present.
She looked at Kashyap. It was clear that she was unsettled. She looked everywhere but at Varun. She found her composure and smiled at Kashyap.
Kashyap introduced Varun to Anaya. Anaya looked at him with the same innocent eyes and smiled.
“Hi.” Varun reached out his hand for a shake.
Anaya looked at his hand and then at him. She clutched his hand softly as if it might hurt him if she held it hard.
“Hi,” she murmured slowly.
“This is my daughter Lavanya.” Kashyap pointed at the girl who had come with Anaya.
“Hi guys,” Lavanya said.
“Well… My work is done. I introduced you. From here, you guys carry on.”
“We will take care of her, sir,” Aman said.
Anaya looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
“He is Aman. Didn’t I say?” Kashyap said.
“Oh.” Anaya nodded.
“Hi.” Aman reached out his hand for a shake just like Varun had.
“Namaste,” she said, joining her hands and ignoring his outstretched one.
Aman lowered his hand and also his face.
“She knows about you,” Kashyap said.
“Did you tell her everything about me?” Aman asked, looking sad.
“Yeah… She knew you wouldn’t leave the hand easily that was extended for a shake. You wouldn’t hesitate to ask for a date. You—”
Cutting him off, Kashyap said, “Enough.” Aman joined his hands.
Varun had a tough time controlling his laughter. He saw Anaya looking at Aman with a warning gaze. When she looked at Varun, her eyes softened again. She smiled at him pleasantly.
The difference was crystal clear. But why? Did Kashyap tell her better things about him? He felt proud of himself.
“Varun, take care of Anaya.”
“Sure, sir. We will finalize the contract if she comes to VA Ads tomorrow.”
“Anaya, beta, go to VA Ads tomorrow,” Kashyap said.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Kashyap asked.
“No, uncle. I will manage,” she stated politely.
“Okay. We are taking your leave,” Kashyap said.
“Okay, sir,” Varun said, looking at Anaya, who just turned her gaze from him.
“Bye.” Anaya smiled.
Varun gave a nod in reply.
Anaya walked away with Kashyap. Varun stood looking at her. She turned back and smiled at him before leaving the auditorium. That brought a smile to Varun’s face.
Varun jerked suddenly, seeing Aman gazing at him, standing very close.
“I have to say, buddy… What’s happening?”
“Why would she ogle you like that?”
“Shut up… Her gaze is not that kind of gaze.”
“Then which kind is it?”
“Then why did she look at you innocently? Do you guys know each other?”
Varun rolled his eyes and started walking.
“I got it…,” Aman said.
Varun looked at him.
“You guys were lovers a previous life. The villains separated you. You took an oath that you will get her in the next life,” Aman said dramatically.
Varun stopped walking and looked at him wearily. “Can’t your pea-sized brain think of anything new? Bloody old story.” He continued walking.
“I have to know—why did she look at you with love-loaded eyes?”
“How should I know?”
“So, you agree…”
“She looked at you with love-loaded eyes.”
“With innocent eyes.”
“I think Kashyap may have talked me up. That’s why she looks at me as if I’m an angel.”
“Oy, hey… I agree that a beautiful girl looked at you, but it doesn’t mean you can call yourself an angel.
“My bad luck that Kashyap warned her about me. Otherwise she would not have averted her eyes from me.”
“Don’t fly high just because a beautiful model ogled you.”
“Stop saying ‘ogle.’ It sounds vulgar,” Varun stated.
“Oh… Was it divine admiration?”
Varun stood folding his hands.
“Yes. It was…something. Like, drizzle. Like a breeze… Like a ripple…”
“Ahem, ahem. Someone wanted her to quit the field… Where’s that guy?”
Varun resumed walking. They came to the parking lot.
“Varun… Varun… Where are you?” Aman pretended to search under the cars.
Varun rapped him on the head.
“Who is overreacting? Me? Hah…”
Aman walked to their car. Varun followed him, smiling.
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