"Where were you? The Gauri Pooja starts in 2 hours. Go, take bath and get ready." Aunt Nanditha, the bride's mother, was annoyed at them for being late.
"Relax Amma. We'll be ready in half an hour." Shruthi slumped on the sofa and opened a large packet of potato chips.
"Half an hour?!!! You two are the bride's sisters. You both need to look good. Vennela, you are the next in line to get married. You need an hour to get ready at the very least. So hurry up."
Vennela looked slightly alarmed at this. Uncle Prakash came forward to greet her. She noticed that he was not his usual funny self. 'He must be worried. It is his daughter's wedding after all.' She shrugged and moved forward to meet Aunt Meenakshi, who kissed her cheek.
"Hello Uncle Praveen. How are you?" She greeted her youngest uncle. "Didn't I tell you not to call me uncle? Call me bro." he said. "Sorry Uncle." Vennela answered. He pouted like a child while everyone in the Dhanunjaya household laughed.
"We missed you" said Aunt Vidya and Uncle Praveen in unison and pulled her into a hug. She touched her grandmother's feet and took her blessings. "God bless you, my child. I was longing to meet you." said her grandmother and handed her a 2000 rupee note.
"How come Vennu akka gets money everytime she touches your feet?" said Rishi.
"This is unfair. We are the youngest ones. Someone give us some money too" added Raj, Rishi's twin.
"It's a pity the 1000 rupee notes have been banned. Or else I would have given you a thousand each." Vennela pocketed the money. "Now stop looking at me like that and give me a hug."
They hugged her and lifted her on their shoulders like they used to when they were kids. What could have been a perfect family moment for Vennela was interrupted when her grandfather spoke to her.
"How are you Vennela?" he asked.
"Fine" she muttered refusing to look at him. Every eyeball in the hall turned towards them.
"You have grown up. You look so tall."
She chose to ignore him.
"Why didn't you use our private jet? It would have been a comfortable journey" he said trying and failing to make her look at him.
She turned to Aunt Vidya who understood how awkward the situation was. She spoke loudly "Come Vennu. Let me take you to your bed chamber." Vennela followed her.
"The designer has delivered your dresses for all the functions last night. Hope you like them. I made sure that they are simple and elegant. Just the way you like."
"They are beautiful aunty. Thank you so much. You understand my taste very well." Vidya smiled in response.
"Where are Lasya akka and Ragini?"
"Lasya is getting ready for the pooja. Nanditha akka hired the best stylists for her. And Ragini, as usual, is instructing them."
'More like irritating them' thought Vennela.
"Did you meet Lasya's fiance Amar at your office?" asked Vidya. "I'm glad you work for his company."
"Aunty, he is the MD. He uses a separate elevator to get to his floor. Normal employees are not allowed in 11th and 12th floors where he works with his team. He came to inspect us twice in the past 8 months. But I was absent on both the occasions. This time I will be there. I may even get special privileges in the office for being his wife's cousin." Vennela winked as her aunt laughed.
"We can catch up later. Now go for bath." Vidya left the room.
Vennela spent half an hour in the bath tub. She almost fell asleep when she heard her phone ring.
"Akka, hurry up. The bride is ready and you didn't even take bath yet. Mom will be furious." Shruthi warned her.
"Okay. I'm almost done."
Ten minutes later she was drying her hair wearing a silk saree. Unlike girls of her age, it took her less than 5 minutes to drape a saree. She struggled to apply eyeliner wondering how her friends do it perfectly. Her eyes watered.
"Look who is here. The VIP of the family who has finally decided to grace the event with her presence." Ragini was leaning by the wall and staring at her.
"I was busy Ragini. My project manager didn't approve my leave request. At least I get to attend the wedding. Thank God it's not on weekdays."
"I can't even imagine how embarrassing it must be to work for some other company and beg your manager for leaves when your family owns a multi national company" smirked Ragini.
"It's alright. Even I can't imagine how embarrassing it must have been for you when aunt Nanditha hired designers from outside for the wedding. She doesn't seem to remember that you are a fashion designer by profession." Vennela gave her a fitting reply.
Ragini scowled while Rishi-Raj who just entered the room, laughed.
"Laugh as much as you want. And you," she turned to Vennela "apply as much make up as you want. But you won't be the best looking girl. Grandma has given me a necklace worth 3 crores. I shall look like a princess by wearing it."
Vennela rolled her eyes. "I don't want to look like a princess Ragini. I'm happy being the Queen I am."
"Okay. Whatever. I've been sent to tell you to come quickly. Make it fast." She left the room.
Vennela hurriedly combed her hair while Rishi-Raj told her funny stories about their detentions in school. They finally marched towards the hall where all the guests were seated.
She glanced at Lasya who looked stunningly pretty. She was sitting in the front row and reciting the mantras on the Pandit's instructions. She just hoped Lasya won't be mad at her for not attending the previous functions.
It was almost 2pm when the Pooja was over. Everyone was headed for lunch when she finally met Lasya.
"Akka, you look beautiful" she complimented.
"You look good too." Lasya smiled. A smile that didn't reach her eyes.
"I'm sorry. I couldn't come earlier. It's not my fault. It's my manager. He looked at me as if I asked him to donate his kidney when I asked for leave."
"Hey, it's alright."
Vennela was puzzled at her cousin's behavior. During their childhood, Lasya once refused to talk to her for 3 weeks because she skipped her birthday party. And now she forgave her for missing her wedding functions just like that.
"What happened akka? You look tensed. Is everything fine?" Vennela inquired.
"There is a problem. I don't like the hair stylist mom hired for me. I talked to another stylist who agreed to show up tomorrow. But she demanded payment in cash. I don't have that much cash with me right now." Lasya explained.
"Ask aunty. She will pay the money."
"No. Mom didn't like the new stylist. She told me to do whatever I want but she won't be giving me a single penny."
"If aunty didn't agree, then I think you shouldn't go against her. Besides, who asks for payment in cash these days?" Vennela told her.
"Every bride has a right to decide how she wants to look on her wedding. And mom can't force her opinion on me. Please give me some cash. I will transfer it to your account later. " Lasya requested her.
"Sisters don't request. They just demand. Tell me the amount."
"Twenty five thousand rupees."
Vennela was shocked. "Don't you think it is a bit too much for a hair stylist?"
"She is very famous."
"Fine. I don't carry that much cash. I will go and withdraw it from the ATM. Let me get my debit card."
"Don't tell anyone." Lasya added before she left.
An hour later, Vennela entered Lasya's room gave her the money. To her surprise, Lasya hugged her.
"Thank you Vennu. I knew you would help me" she said teary eyed.
"Now, now sis. Stop being emotional. You can't cry now.It's your wedding tomorrow. And don't forget. Your fiance is the MD of my company. He would be angry if he knew that one of his employees made his fiance shed tears." Vennela attempted to cheer her up.
"That's like a good girl. Take rest." Vennela left the room.
Lasya looked at the retreating figure of her cousin wondering when she would be seeing her again. 'I'm sorry for lying to you Vennu. But I had to.'
She gestured Ragini to come to her room. "I received money. I packed few essentials in this bag. Create a diversion exactly at 6 pm. Keep the back door open."
"I will miss you." Ragini hugged her.
"I'm going to miss you too. I never thought I will have to elope to get married." Lasya sighed thinking about the problems she would be facing in the coming few hours.