Khushi was having a tough time. Her day that had begun with the nightmare of coming face to face with ASR, had worsened by afternoon by onslaught of guilt and doubt. They had just come back from their meeting, and to say Khushi was astounded by the turn of events was an understatement. She had been mystified by the whole thing when she had set out with Payal this morning to the mystery meeting. She had no idea where they were going, who they were meeting. And when the surprise had been revealed, she had felt thoroughly shocked, somewhere hurt, guilty, regretful, and happy all at once.
Payal, apparently had been seeing her childhood friend and school classmate from England. She had been dating Angus McFarley since the last two years. “Hay Devi Maiyya!” she had muttered to herself, a bit hurt that they’d fallen so far apart that they’d stopped sharing confidences. Not that she blamed Payal one bit from keeping this news from her. She was a grown woman of 23, she could maker her own decisions. And of course, Khushi realised that she had never been told because of her own preoccupation with herself. Payal was not the kind of person who would lay down burdens on her sisters’ head, especially when she could see her sister struggling with some of her own.
Khushi felt horribly guilty. After the “brain going dead due to sensual overload” incident with ASR, she had clammed up. She had ignored everything except the need to get away from England. She had never discussed any of it with Payal, but had brutally removed her from her comfortable surroundings, and dragged her to India, without even once asking her if she wanted to relocate. She had ignored the needs of her younger sister and put herself first. She was a horrible elder sister! Not that Payal or Angus saw it that way. They were very understanding of her, and didn’t blame her at all! Angus wanted to ask her permission to marry Payal and take her back to England, where she could continue with her studies if she wanted to, or they could set up a house.
He was a nice bloke, was Angus, Khushi mused. His family had lived next to theirs for years, before his parents died in an unfortunate car crash. She had known his parents- nice people who hadn’t been very social but always had a kind word to say about everyone in the neighbourhood. Angus had been their only child and she was well aware of the pain of becoming an orphan. Perhaps that is how they had first bonded, concluded Khushi, though she remembered Angus had overcome the grief and dedicated himself to making a career. Today, he was financially secure; worked in a bank at a good position and had no hang ups about their culture. Payal was a religious person and like Khushi, prayed to Mata Rani. Angus was a Catholic, but had no aversion to Hinduism. Khushi could hardly say no to Angus after knowing this all.
But stalled them she had. She had requested for time and space to speak with her sister, but really wanted time to get used to the idea of Payal going away from her. After all, she was her only living relation in the world. Right from 12 years back, the time their parents had died, Khushi had taken over as Payal’s guardian. She had thought she’d been doing a good job, but wasn’t sure anymore. Doubts assailed her from all directions. Would Amma-Babuji have approved of Angus? What would they have said and done had they been alive? Thoughts circled her head all afternoon, like sparrows chirping in a circle, until she felt a headache taking space of the doubts.
“Khushi di, kya baat hai? Are you worried about me? Are you not happy about–“
Speaking from the heart, Khushi blurted out ” Nothing of the sort. I am very happy for you Payal. But I am thinking of Amma-Babuji. They would’ve been so happy. They should’ve been here to take these decisions. How can I decide such things? “
Tears gathered in Payal’s eyes. She caught her elder sister’s hand and held it lovingly next to her face. “You are my Amma-Babuji Di. You cared for me when they were gone. How can you not be the person to decide about my life? Did you not like Angus? Do you think I’m too young to marry?”
Hearing the worry in her sister’s voice, Khushi cursed inwardly. Drat! She didn’t want Payal worrying about things. She shrugged her doubts aside for Payal’s sake and smiled brightly, “You are old enough to marry. Had our parents been alive, they’d have married you off at the same age too, you know. And Angus is a good man. He will keep you happy. If you wish me to bless you guys, then it’s done.”
She was relieved to see a smile on Payal’s face, her eyes twinkling with happiness. Payal hugged her and said, “Thank you Khushi Di. I wouldn’t have felt right had you not been happy for me.” And then the smile turned brighter and she said, “Now that you won’t have to worry about me anymore, you may focus more on your love life. Maybe Shyam –“
Khushi frowned with annoyance and firmly declared, “Oh no. That is one boat that won’t sail at all. He is a good friend and that is who he will remain. “
“Good, I’m happy with your choice. You need a man who can be your equal Di.” Payal shot this last remark at Khushi’s turned back and went into the kitchen.
And in that moment, Khushi knew she had made the right decision. She was going to say no to Shyam’s proposal. He was a very good friend and a very nice person, but truthfully speaking she couldn’t see herself spending years of companionship with him. She wanted to fall passionately in love and get married to the man of her dreams. A vision of ASR rose up and she gave a horrified gasp. Not him! No! She didn’t mean him as her man of dreams. He was the monster perhaps, said her head, but her accelerated heartbeat and throbbing pulses suggested otherwise.
“Get lost from my head, Alexander Sebastian Rothwell, Arnav Singh Raizada, or whatever it is you like being called, you ASR !” she hissed to herself, moving away from the window facing the roadside.
At the same moment, in one of the several meetings he was to attend that day in his company’s Indian headquarters, ASR looked up from the file he was reading, astonished to hearing his names being hissed.
Shyam looked at Khushi as she hung up and put the mobile back in her bag. She looked back at him, her eyes unfocussed. She was already thinking about business; about Anjali’s brother who would have to be picked up from the airport tomorrow because he had made a last minute decision to join in the festivities. Apparently he was against this wedding, and had decided not to attend it earlier. She could cheerfully wring his neck were he not an important part of the client’s family. Now she could have to rearrange everything from sitting positions, cards to family presentation details.
“Khushi! I swear to God sometimes I wonder if you live on another platform!” Shyam’s outraged voice brought her back. Khushi patted on his back in a friendly way, and smiled warmly at him, “You know I am a little like that. But you like me despite my eccentricities. Now be a good fellow and help me out.”
“With what?” Asked Shyam, putting an arm around her good naturedly, his ill humour forgotten with her warm smile.
Khushi looked at him teasingly, “Your grammar is a bit sloppy, isn’t it? “
Shyam gave her a crooked smile, “Well now, you know me honey. I don’t care about such things. And there’s always everyone’s take on how to speak things you know.”
Khushi snorted delicately and gave him a smart tap on his shoulder, “Huh! Just admit you like being a little out of ordinary yourself Mr. Shyam Jha! Now to business- I need your help. This new client has a brother who is arriving tomorrow. I want someone to go and pick him up from the airport.”
“No can do. I have an early morning meeting. You need to do this yourself. “ Khushi groaned inwardly, but conceded she would have to do it. Another black mark against her as an elder sister, she thought to herself guiltily. Payal had asked her this morning, if she could keep her diary free for tomorrow, and she had assured her that nothing would come in the way.
Khushi’s face must’ve shown some of her inner regret and sadness, because Shyam held her chin up and said, “Khushi, don’t be sad! Look if you don’t want to go to the airport to receive this fellow, just let them know you can’t. They can’t hang you for simply not going to receive him. After all, it is last moment notice.”
That got Khushi out of her reverie. She couldn’t afford to lose this account, for Payal’s sake. She made herself smile as naturally as she could and said, “It’s alright. I was just thinking about something I’d seen on the TV earlier and it made me sad. That’s all.”
“Khushi!!” said Shyam exasperatedly and they both laughed together.
Khushi was at the airport to receive Anjali’s brother at four the next morning. She had hated getting out the bed and dressing up, but had no choice. Keeping her dress code casual formal, she had worn blue jeans with a pale green Shirt, topped it with an Olive green short jacket. Her hair was tied in a sleek ponytail and her feet were ensconced in green sandals with kitty heels. A pale pink gloss was all the make-up she had put on.
The placard in her hand read Alexander Sebastian Rothwell. She wondered at the name for a minute. Strange for Anjali to have a brother who sounded foreign, then shrugged her shoulder and yawned. What did she care? All she knew was that she was to receive him, drop him to the Taj Palace Hotel and go back home to snuggle down back into the covers for an hour or two, before accompanying Payal to whatever mystery place she wanted to take her to.
Arrival of the flight from New York was announced, and Khushi jerked herself awake. Holding the placard high in her hand, she stood a little apart from the throng of others who were waiting for their guests at the arrival gate. As soon as people starting coming out of the gate, Khushi looked around, hunting for a white Caucasian male to get out and look at her placard. She kept on looking, until almost everyone had left.
Had she missed him ? Had he not come after all? She turned around and checked people passing by. Nope, didn’t look like he was among them either. So where the devil was he?
“Of all the people in the world—Are you here to receive me by any chance?”
The hairs on the back of her neck and hands stood up as Khushi heard the voice she had never wanted to hear again. Slowly, keeping her wits about her, she turned around and nearly fainted. ASR stood there, with his hands in his pockets, his expression unreadable in the faint light. He looked up at the sign she was holding and said resignedly, “It had to be you. ”
He had not changed a bit in the last year, thought Khushi as she looked at him. He was still broodingly handsome, with a day’s stubble on his face and those amber eyes that seared her body. Her heart beat fast as she tried to get over her shock.
“But I’m here to receive a Alexander Sebastian Rothwell, not you.”
He looked forbidding and bored, as she said, “Take your pick. ASR – Arnav Singh Raizada or Alex Seb Rothwell, I’m still the same person you’ve come to receive at the airport. Now if you’d stop imitating a gold fish, I’d like to go to the hotel please. Or is it too much to hope that a room has been booked for me?”
Khushi flushed pink with anger at his tone and his words. Closing her mouth that had been wide open with shock, and holding her emotions in control, she spoke to him coolly, “A room has been booked for you in the Taj Palace, as per your sister’s instructions. If you will please follow me, I’ll take you to the car that will take you to the hotel.”
His gaze moved to her head where her hair was tied neatly in a ponytail. He observed, “You’ve grown your hair. It is longer than I last saw it.”
Khushi was startled at this piece of observation from him. He had noted the length of her hair and remembered it from last year? She refused to feel that small burst of excitement in her belly and replied with coolness she didn’t feel, “Yes, I have grown it. Now, if you please—“
“Do I disturb you?” He asked and Khushi goggled at him.
“What ? I –“ Khushi started and then, alarmed took a step back when he stepped forward. “What are you doing?”
A couple of inches that had separated them vanished as Arnav came closer. His eyes were dark and searching. Khushi tried to look away from him. In the next instant she felt a hand on her chin, and rough growl, “Stop turning away from me. “ Khushi closed her eyes childishly, refusing to look at him, shivering by the touch of his hand on her chin. He bent a little to bring his face close to her and said softly, “Yes, I do believe I disturb you.”
“Why is it that every time I propose a visit to London, you have another engagement? I am beginning to think you do not wish to meet my parents.”
Khushi look at Shyam; her stable, sensible boyfriend of eight months, with exasperation and despair. Good looking, charming, and mostly fun to be with, he came from a rich family, but was not a snob like others she knew. He was also a good photographer, and had worked with her on some of her company assignments, which is how they’d met. What she liked the most about him was that despite the fact that they had been going around since the last eight months, he mostly kept his distance- respected her belief in the old fashioned idea of “physical relationship and commitment go hand in hand”.
But sometimes, like today, she could scream at him in frustration. She knew he was planning to ask her to marry him, and she understood that perhaps he wanted his parents’ approval. After all, she was a nobody; an orphan with a younger sister to support; she was no catch and would probably not meet his parents’ approval at all. And yet this was the second time in the last week that he had insisted on going to London to meet his parents. Though she appreciated him for his efforts, frankly speaking, she felt like she was being pushed into the deep end, and she was most certainly not ready to take any sort of leap. Marriage was too big a step for her and she wasn’t sure Shyam was the right guy. And London was the last place in the world she would ever visit!
An image of ASR rose up into her mind to haunt her of the past and she shivered despite the fact that she was thousands of miles away from him now. Even after all these months, she could close her eyes and feel the impact of his persona- his soul searching eyes, his aftershave, the way he had closed the distance between them and almost made her break her own rule of never getting involved physically with a playboy. Had she not come to her senses in time, she might have been just another notch on his belt. To shake his thoughts off, she looked into Shyam’s eyes. Yes, Shyam was nice. He was safe. She put her hand on his shoulder and tried to make him understand.
“Look Shyam, I’ve told you before- I am too busy at this time with my work. I’ve just taken a new assignment and I can’t let delegate things because it is too important. If you have to visit your parents, do. I don’t understand why you want me to come to meet them anyway.”
“Don’t be daft Khushi. You know I plan to introduce you to them as the woman I am getting married to.” Shyam said, determination plain in his voice.
Khushi turned to look at him, not surprised really. She had known his intentions after all. “It doesn’t come as a surprise, but I thought you’d ask me first. That’s the way it goes you know.”
Shyam grinned charmingly, his hand playing with his long hair tied in a pony tail. “Now you know baby doll. I want us to get married. You’ve been working hard to get your wedding planner business up, but the best way is to get married yourself.” He winked, “But more to the point, I feel we’re very fond of each other, and we’ll have a lot of fun together. Don’t you?”
Khushi was in a fix. Saying no would hurt Shyam unbearably because he was very sensitive, but saying yes would encourage him to think ahead, which was not something she wanted at this time. Oh why couldn’t she have fallen in love with him or perhaps learned to be a brutal bitch who could’ve heartlessly declined his proposal? She opened her mouth to say something, and was saved from saying anything at all, as her phone rang. Giving Shyam an apologetic look, she said, “Sorry, have to pick this up. It’s the client who’s wedding I’m arranging.”
“Haan Anjaliji? Kahiye.” Khushi said on the phone. Last year, Khushi had arrived back to India with her sister and opened shop as a wedding planner. It had been a struggle in the beginning, but slowly and surely business had picked up.
The feather in her cap would be this assignment she had currently picked up- a billionaire client who was getting married in India, before heading back to the U.S. If things went right, she could get a lot of business simply by word of mouth, Khushi mused within as she discussed next day’s plans with Anjali over the phone. It would solve her latest problem of where to send Payal for her University studies.
Not that Payal, an introvert who kept mostly to herself, had mentioned her preferences to her elder sister. But she had spoken to the only close friend of hers, who in turn had let Khushi know. Payal wanted to go back to London, to study Political Science and International Law at the LSE, but understood that lack of funds might prevent her. This assignment would be just the thing that would solve the problem, if things went as smoothly as they had been going the last few weeks. She focused her attention back on the phone call. In seconds, she was frowning as she said,
“You have a brother? But –“ she frowned some more and said, “ Yes, you’re right of course. It’s my mistake and I’m sorry. It’s just that no one told me you had a brother. Is he arriving alone or with his family? ”
She smiled away the frown lines with what she heard over the phone and said, “You don’t need to apologise, Anjaliji. It was an honest mistake on both parts. Don’t you worry. I will make sure someone is sent to pick him up from the airport tomorrow morning, or if not I will pick him up myself. “
ARNAV AND KHUSHI ARE BACK! :)
I don’t think there is a way where I can stay away from two of my favourite characters. So here goes, another story with Arnav and Khushi of the famed IPKKND. Don’t forget to let me know how you like the beginning. ;)
“Khushi madam, ASR ne bulaya hai- urgently.”
Khushi groaned inwardly as she looked at the watch. Hey Devi Maiyya! Ab kya! It looked like she was going to be late reaching home today. And on Payal’s birthday too! Why, oh why couldn’t the Laad Governer have called earlier if he had already something to pick on her today ? Not that these thoughts reflected on her face at all. She looked with a serene expression on her face at the messenger; a special “chamcha” of ASR as she liked to call him and said, “I will be there in two minutes. Thank you.”
The messenger with the name OP left her with a smirk on his face and muttered, “Fireworks on the way.”
Khushi heard that mutter and straightened her spine. She stood up, smoothed her skirt, and collected her notepad and pen. Not a single time went by when she and the CEO of the multinational organisation didn’t have a clash of –well, it wasn’t words really, since she was in no position to have a clash of words with him. After all, he was the big boss and she was just an office assistant. They generally had no personal meetings- only the end of the year meeting and a review. He found faults with her at times, and conveyed them to her by Email (lately these emails had become frequent)– she had to reluctantly acknowledge– that the wretched man had been right every time. Nothing escaped his attention.
So it wasn’t a clash of words or wills. It was simply a clash of eyes. She shivered as she remembered those amber eyes; the way they bore into her like they would strip her of all her calm. Taking deep breaths, she preached herself, “Stop it. It is high time you stopped with this nonsense. Stop being so affected by him. He’s just a man- not an ogre. Stay calm. Deep breaths..He is not going to strangle you even if you might have made a mistake. ” and she breathed in deep and closed her eyes.
“He just might .” Said an amused but irritated voice from behind, “If you don’t stop talking to yourself and get yourself moving.”
Khushi opened her eyes immediately and turned around neatly on her black pumps. ASR stood there, all six foot two of lean muscle clad in crisp grey business suit. Not even a trace of humour showed on his face, so that she thought she might have imagined his amused tone. He stood in his usual stance, with his hands in his trouser pockets and a frown on his forehead, surveying her like she was an alien specimen. Hayye Devi Maiyya! How long had he been standing there? Had he heard all that nonsense about her being affected by him? She sincerely hoped not! Her heart stuttered as she met his eyes, and then she forced herself to become calm. Her doe brown eyes became as opaque as wood as she said, “I was just collecting my notepad and pen before coming to your office.”
He looked at her, from her sleek neat hair falling over her shoulders, her doe brown eyes, her slightly flushed cheeks, pale pink lips, cream blouse over black knee-length skirt and her feet encased in black stockings and black pumps. She looked exactly as an Office Assistant should look- neat and presentable, calm and ready to handle any crisis. No one looking at her could doubt her ability to run the office with the efficiency she had been running it with, for the last two years. He wasn’t sure how, but he was aware that she was anything but calm most of the times.
“Hmpph.” said he gruffly, turning around to get out of her office and stride with his long legs into his own.
As Arnav left to go to work with a declaration that they must talk soon, Khushi stomach knotted itself. She so didn’t want to talk to him about the past! She also knew the other things that would crop up during the talks. He had tried talking to her about them last night, and then again early in the morning after they had had the shower, but she had closed her eyes and ears to his speech about security for the boys and herself, and asked him to not spoil the moment.
She knew it would not be long before he would bring up the topic again.
“Khushiji?” Anjali called.
“Yes Di?” Khushi replied automatically, her mind still stuck on Arnav as she finished her plateful of Puri with Potato subzi. She had been overjoyed to see her favourite breakfast made for her by OPji.
OPji had gruffly welcomed her in the kitchen earlier. A man not accustomed to comment on his employers and ever loyal, he had been a source of comfort during tough days five years back. He did suitably frown upon her though, by shooing her out of the kitchen when she’d tried to help, haughtily informing her that she was his mistress, and he was there to serve her. He had also mumbled that it was to be hoped she wouldn’t run away this time. Chastened by the long time servant of the house, Khushi had gotten out of the kitchen then.
Now when he came to collect the dishes, Khushi smiled at him and thanked him for remembering her taste. He cracked what resembled a smile and left her.
“Khushiji?” Anjali called again and Khushi looked around.
Anjali sat with Naniji on the sofa in the living room. Payal seemed to be knitting and all three kids seemed to be talking under their breath about something. Khushi’s brow furrowed as she looked at them. They seemed to be conspiring something! Was it not just a day that they’d met? How could they be so pally? Not that she wasn’t delighted with this development, but — She mused as she went to join the others.
She smiled as she sat down opposite Anjali, who seemed to be browsing a magazine now. Anjali looked up at Khushi and said, “Khushiji, we must prepare for the party. Chhote says he plans to give the party next week, on Tuesday.”
Khushi’s eyes widened, “But Di, that’s too early! I thought it’d be another month or so before he’d throw one.”
Anjali laughed, “Have you forgotten what he’s like? Once an idea gets stuck in his head, he’d not rest until he’s executed his idea.”
Sighing Khushi nodded, “I was foolish to think he’d have changed.” Looking at Anjali’s frowning face, she smiled and said, “Not to worry Di. I’ll ensure he changes his mind.”
Nani ji shook her head sadly, “I don’t think you will be able to change his mind darling. He is quite determined to put an end to all those rumours and saga that began five years back with Aparna’s entry.”
Khushi’s head snapped right at Vishal who was busy with his younger brothers and looked back at Naniji. Mrs. Raizada senior smiled sadly and said, “Yes, Vishal was acknowledged by Arnav long back as his adopted son, but now you must acknowledge his acceptance in front of the society. You have to show people that you accept him as well. Only then will this family be able to live in peace, and Vishal bitwa will get his place in the society. Much as it pains to say it, he still feels left out. ”
Khushi frowned, “Arnav accepted him as adopted son? But naniji he is.. Vishal is Aparna and-“the words stuck in her throat but she carried on bravely, swallowing their poison, “ Aparna and Arnav’s ji son. Why was he not acknowledged accordingly? And I have another question about where Aparna is as well.”
Naniji raised her hand to stop her, and said in a firm voice, “I’m afraid I can’t answer any of your questions regarding that woman’s whereabouts. However I can tell you this- Vishal is not her son. Vishal has been officially adopted from the orphanage where he spent his childhood after his parents died.”
Seeing the bewildering expression on Khushi’s face, Naniji explained with an earnest expression, “Aparna had conspired against Arnav, and forced the child’s hand, Khushi. Granted, during their University days, they had dated but that’s all that had happened. Arnav is no fool to not realize he could have slipped and a child could’ve been born. He had his suspicions earlier on, but it was only after you left that things came into light. He investigated the whole story and found out the truth.”
A huge hole opened up under Khushi’s feet at this news. Trying to refute it, she shook her head vigorously, saying, “No. This is—how can it be possible? I saw the proof myself. I know the truth.”
Her eyes filled with tears as she saw Naniji and Anjali looking at her with a tragic expression. The world blurred into nothing as Khushi went back into her past and remembered the day DNA test results had come in. She had seen the reports, where Arnav and Vishal’s DNA had been claimed as a match.
“Aparna was a cunning woman. She played on our good nature, especially yours and gained entry in the house. It was only after you left and Chhote became inconsolable with your absence, that she started showing her true colours. Khushi ji, let Chhote be the man to tell you how things came out.”
“We spent all these years apart because I believed a lie?” Khushi’s mind boggled at the picture that was emerging.
Anjali squeezed Khushi’s shoulder in sympathy. “We all did believe her, didn’t we? It wasn’t just you. Had it not been for the near tragedy, we’d never have found out.”
Khushi’s hackles rose at the meaning behind Anjali’s words. Almost scared to ask, yet curious, she said, “What near tragedy Di?”
When Anjali looked reluctant to continue, Khushi pressed, “Please Di, you have to tell me. Nahi toh hum abhi Arnav ji ke office jaa kar unse puchenge.”
But Anjali shook her head, tears ever present in her eyes. She looked away, took a deep breath and faced Khushi, “It is best that Chhote tells you about it Khushiji. Come Nani, Mami, Payalji we must prepare lunch.”
All of them rose together, giving Khushi a pitying glance and left for the kitchen, leaving behind a very troubled Khushi.
It was Vishal who roused Khushi from her troublesome thoughts. He laid his head on her lap and closed his eyes.
“Yes my son?” said Khushi, putting one hand lovingly on his head. Aarush and Ayush came to sit beside her and she took them in her arms too.
“Let the past remain where it is; far behind us. I don’t want you and Dad fighting at any time. I hated it when you did that before you left. If you leave this time, I will come with you and my brothers.”
Tears nearly flooded Khushi’s eyes at his words. She bent down and kissed his forehead, saying, “I promise we won’t fight. I will not go away anywhere, son. But I must speak to him. I must know.”
Khushi was impatient to get to their room tonight, Arnav observed with some amusesment. He had already been warned by both Akash and Payal about the conversation that had taken place in the afternoon. Khushi had put on a calm face, but those who knew better were aware that she was in an agitated state. No one had tried to console her or ask her to calm down, he was told, because they all knew it was only Arnav who could do it.
With the boys in bed since long, and dinner with family done, they all sat around eating dessert of gulab jamuns. Arnav was eating his share of sugar free gulab jamuns and finalizing the details about the party with Akash. They had all given their inputs, including Khushi who insisted that food should be Indian- be it Indian or Non-vegetarian. Arnav had seen the happy smile on her face when everyone had agreed, and he’d added that he’d make sure there were panipuri, lassi and jalebi stands.
After a while, Khushi yawned, stood up and said, “Well, I’m tired. I’m not used to keeping late nights anymore.” Looking at Naniji, she said, “We used to sleep at about 9 every night; the kids and I, already close to midnight is half the night of sleep gone for me.”
Payal laughed at this and said, “Khushi, you always did have a penchant for finding ways to sneak off to bed and snore your head off.”
“Jiji!” Khushi sounded offended but smiled at her sister, saying, “I know that I was like that before, but it’s just that—well, after putting a long day at work, I used to be tired and sleep is sweet when there’s dreams waiting.”
“No need to go to sleep and dream about a white knight anymore Khushiji. Just order Arnav and he’ll get your dreams fulfilled.” Anjali winked at Khushi.
Khushi looked up at Arnav and found the lusty fire of his eyes burning her up. She looked down, nervous, “Maybe I can stay up a little longer.”
“Nope. We go to bed now. Good night everyone.” Arnav stood up with that decision, wishing everyone good night, winking at Anjali and Akash as he took Khushi by the arm before she could open her mouth.
NO apologies for not posting for so long. I know you all understand everything writing blocks and other commitments. ;) Do tell me how you like this chapter though. I’m on a roll today, thank God!
“I- er I’ll be right back.” Khushi mumbled as she took the opportunity to change in the bathroom.
Her insides were quivering as she changed into her nightdress, given to her by Payal jiji. She was trying so hard to gather her strength to get out of the bathroom and face Arnav. They were together after all and husband and wife always slept together, unless they weren’t with each other. Khushi was well aware of this fact. And yet, her palms were sweating. The lace at the collar of her night dress was choking her, the bodice of her night gown felt tight. She kept on scolding herself for feeling so nervous. It wasn’t as if they were going to do anything in bed, for goodness sake! All she had to do was turn on her side of the bed, close her eyes and sleep.
But sleep itself seemed far away from her eyes when she exited the bathroom. Her gaze took its fill of Arnav and her mind went blank. All she could think of was Arnav, sitting on the bed with his laptop in his lap. He wore a thin white shirt that emphasized the breadth of his shoulders and chest. His eyes were focused on whatever it was that he was doing on that laptop, his brows furrowed in concentration. He growled something low in his throat and Khushi nearly fled the bedroom. She couldn’t just sleep with him!
“Khushi.” A single word, growled from his mouth set Khushi’s pulses soaring. So he wasn’t totally focused on his work after all. Khushi, determined to not give in to her nerves made a brave attempt at sounding brusque.
As if in slow motion, Arnav kept his laptop aside on the bedside table and looked at her. Then he gave her a slow, lethal smile that all but seduced Khushi’s senses. His voice did the rest when he husked, “Come to bed darling. Stop dawdling there.”
As if tugged by invisible strings, Khushi’s feet moved forward, her heart beating a dancing rhythm in her chest. She looked at him as he watched her, a predatory glint in his eyes, following her movements as if to see to it that she obeyed him. Her senses were thrilled at this show of domination even after all these years.
As Arnav watched Khushi approaching bed, his body tingled with anticipation. A memory hit him hard of her fingertips caressing his sweat slicked skin after they’d made love with her thighs still wrapped around his lean hips. The image of her moaning into his mouth as they kissed almost undid him. He took a deep shuddering breath as he put his massive will towards the task of controlling himself.
Khushi watched Arnav taking a deep breath and followed his example. His scent penetrated her nostrils and kicked her in the pelvis. She could feel herself getting wetter and wetter as his eyes devoured her. And this was when she’d barely reached the bed, barely reached where he sat waiting for her!
“Hey Devi Maiyya.. save me.” Khushi prayed inwardly at such a sensual onslaught. The last step taken, she almost stumbled as she reached Arnav, who sat with his arms behind his head, watching her.
“Khushi.” He growled as she reached him and couldn’t stop himself from pulling her hand. With a shriek, Khushi fell straight across him. Gasping for breath, she said, “Arnavji.. you are such—“
The rest of it was lost as he quickly adjusted his position and came on top of her, his hands supporting his weight. Without even saying a word, he brushed his chest against her breasts, firing her up. She looked up into his eyes and then closed them as a feeling of bliss enveloped her. She could feel his breath on her lips, the butterfly kiss that he bestowed upon her eyes, the trailing kisses right upto her jaw and then finally her mouth.
As their mouths met, Khushi moaned in pleasure. The moan was cut midway as Arnav increased the pressure of his mouth and the kiss became deep. His lips delivered pleasure in beautiful and torturous ways as they plundered her mouth, tangled with her tongue and enticed her into this beautiful foreplay of senses.
The dress felt suffocating. Khushi grumbled in her brain. As if already aware, Arnav moved his hand to her throat and started undoing the buttons of her nightdress. His hands moved over the lace of the gown, and slowly progressed towards her breasts. She moaned out loud when his mouth swooped down to capture one fabric clad nipple and tug on it.
When he came up, it was to set his lips on hers again. Khushi sucked his tongue into her mouth, uncaring of how bold her gesture was. Arnav’s hands romanced her body, as he unbuttoned more of her.
“This is a beautiful nightdress, quite an improvement on all those hideous PJs you always wore,” he said smilingly, tracing the deep V of the neckline with his fingertip, skimming silk and skin
with the movement.
Her breath hitched, her entire body on fire, waiting for what he would do next. She needed him more right now than she need air to breathe. His next words raged the fire in womb even higher, when he dragged his hand down her womanhood and cupped her there. . “But it is not as beautiful as you, my happiness. And right now, I need to see you.”
Khushi nodded to help him take off her nightdress. In one sweep it was off her body, and she was left with her thin bra and thong. Arnav lifted his hand and ran circles around her breast, slowly coming to the epicenter. His thumb slip over the hard, tight bud. He flicked it, making Khushi moan out his name. Leaning in, he blew on the hardened nub.
“Are you hot for me?” He asked
Khushi arched her back, offering more of herself to him as she said, “Yes!”
His hand drifted down to her mound and he rubbed his finger over her as he asked, “Wet for me?”
Khushi couldn’t speak, could barely nod as she felt overpowered by the feeling of his hand rubbing back and forth against the flimsy barrier of her thong.
Arnav closed his eyes, as he sought control. He wanted to rip apart her thong and push himself deep inside Khushi. But he knew he would need to take it slow. After all these years of neglect, her sex would need some cuddling before he plunged in.
His amber eyes took on fire as she pushed her breasts together and offered it to him by arching her back and saying his name, pleading, “Arnav please!”
Nothing could stop him then. He fell to sucking her breasts, one to the other again and again, until Khushi writhed beneath him in pleasure, making sounds that took him higher. She tightened her fingers in his hair and moved her head from side to side.
“Please Arnav.. now!”
Khushi pleaded, but Arnav was merciless tonight. He kissed the hollow of her throat as he came up for air and said, “Later. First I want to taste every inch of you. I have hungered for you for so many years my darling. I need time to savour every delectable inch of you. He bit lightly on her neck and connected their mouths again.
Khushi’s hands roamed over his clothed body as she whispered against his mouth, “Take it off.”
Arnav sat up and looked at her, his eyes holding a feral gleam as he said, “You do it. Take my shirt off.”
With eyes glazed with desire, Khushi quickly obliged him. Bare chested now, Arnav sat still while Khushi explored his body, moving her hands over his chest, lightly rubbing his male nipples. He jumped when she put her tongue out and licked one. Quickly catching her by the hair, he said, “If you do this, it’ll all be over before it can start.” He kissed her arched neck and then her mouth, “I’ll let you do it later love. For now…”
He quickly flipped her over her stomach and started kissing her back. Khushi trembled under his mouth as he reached her hips. Nipping slightly, he turned her over again and kissed her right where she throbbed the most. Khushi clutched his head as he licked her, sucked the tight nub into his mouth and flicked his tongue inside her.
“Are you ready to come my love?” Arnav asked her, his mouth glistening with her juices.
Khushi writhed, hungering for more of his mouth. “Yes, please don’t stop now.”
“I don’t intend to.” Arnav grinned and got down to business. A finger and then two were pushed into her, as he still licked her clit.
Khushi screamed as she came in his mouth, while he pushed her higher and higher. When she came to, Arnav lay on top of her, his eyes animalistic. He kissed her, letting her taste her own juices, as he positioned himself.
“And now we ride together to heaven.”
Saying this he pushed into her wet, tight sheath in a single thrust, knowing Khushi was ready and waiting. It felt like coming home as he thrust into her harder and faster, with Khushi urging him on. He howled her name out loud as he spilled his seed inside her seconds after she came again.
“Khushiji!” Anjali called out again, bringing Khushi back to reality.
“Huh?” Khushi looked at Anjali, wondering what was being said.
Anjali and Payal looked at each other and grinned. Then they turned to Khushi again. Payal said, “Khushi, it looks as if you haven’t slept all night.”
Mortified, Khushi blushed beetroot red, as both Anjali and Payal burst out laughing.
Khushi stammered, “W-who h-hum-“ and was interrupted by Anjali with naughty expression in her eyes.
“Haan haan.. we know. You must have not been able to sleep in bed, with Chhote in it after so long. And we also know that in this case, “hum” is not just for you but for both Chhote and you.”
If Khushi could have dug a hole, she’d have done it. As it was, with both her sister and Arnav’s sister teasing her, Khushi found herself unable to subside her galloping heart beat as she remembered the previous night.
They had made love more than once and barely slept at all. The entire night went away as they rested and then took pleasure in each other’s’ bodies again and again. It was only when Arnav declared that he would have to get up and get ready to go to work, that they had relented. Even then, — Khushi remembered what happened in the shower and blushed red.
“Chhote, don’t you think Khushi ji has changed colour?” Anjali’s interesting observation had her head snapping around to where Arnav sat grinning and eating his cheese sandwich.
He winked at her and turned to Anjali, “Di, if you continue teasing her, she would remain red and then my sons would wonder if I’ve beaten her up.”
As Anjali laughed, Khushi started. She had completely forgotten Aarush and Ayush!!! Looking around frantically, she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up into Naniji’s smiling face and said, “Wo hum—I’d – are the children okay? I must look into-“
Naniji sat down on her matriarchal seat and said, “No need Khushi bitiya. Both bitwas are with Vishal bitwa. They’re having fun with their elder brother and they’ve already breakfasted together.”
Khushi heaved a sigh of relief and yet felt guilty. She should have remembered her sons earlier! It was their second day in this house and they may need time adjusting to it all. She chewed her lips, worrying over this until Arnav said, “Khushi, stop worrying. They’re all alright. We need to talk however.”
And Khushi felt another uneasy jolt in her stomach. She knew what this talk would entail and she was not looking forward to it.
Khushi heard a gasp and some low voiced mutterings. Curious to know where the noise had come from, she looked up to see a boy coming down the stairs slowly, one step at a time. She recognized him immediately. It was Vishal. His forehead shone with perspiration as he tried to carefully take another step down the stairs. With her heart in her mouth, Khushi watched as he slowly came down. How he had grown! Her heart ached for the little boy she had known and the boy know, who was trying so hard to fit in into the world. If nothing, she was glad that he had Arnav’s affection.
She had now accepted the reasoning her mind had come up with the night before, that even though Vishal had been accepted by Arnav, Aparna had not. What Arnav said when before he left to sleep in the guest room had stayed with her. It was quite clear that Aparna had left their lives long time back. She was curious as to what could have been the reason. Why did Arnav say she would regret having sacrificed five years of their lives together?
During this contemplation, she had also let in another thought. A part of her had wondered if she was actually being forced to go back. She had had to accept it that deep inside her, hope of going back home, to the man who was her husband, her life had always been there. Maybe when she had prayed at all times for her beloved’s well-being, she had secretly hoped for a reunion. Why should she then not embrace it?
After an hour of debate with herself, Khushi had finally decided to give herself and Arnav a second chance.
When Khushi had entered RM, she had wondered if she would encounter any unknown in the house she had made home. But looking around had confirmed her suspicions from last night.
For whatever reason, Aparna had not been given an entry in Shantivan. Meeting everyone made her realize another thing. Aparna had never been a part of this family- her family, in all the years that Khushi had been gone. Had she lived in Shantivan; Raizada Mansion, she would have definitely left her mark somewhere, on someone. It was as if she had never been there. The only difference she could perceive in the house was addition of some new furnishings. No doubt that the escalator was for Vishal as was the moving chair and a hammock next to the back garden.
Khushi watched Vishal coming down all by himself and felt anger bubbling inside her on his behalf. How could everyone just let him walk down the stairs all alone! At least OP or HP should have been with him! Another step and he faltered again. Before Khushi could stop herself, she was up the stairs and next to him. Smiling at him, she said, “Will you let me help you down?”
The smile that lit Vishal’s face as he accompanied it with an enthusiastic nod nearly brought tears to Khushi’s eyes. How could she not love him? After all, if she thought fairly, it was Vishal who had first awakened motherly feelings in her. Shrugging all her thoughts, she held his hand.
“I’m so glad you’re back.” Vishal said as he took a step down.
“I’m glad to see you can walk now.” Khushi said, her voice husky with emotion. There was no question of not accepting Vishal, he always had a place in her heart.
Vishal looked at her face again. Seeing tears glittering in her eyes, his hand left hers. In the next instant, he wrapped them around Khushi’s waist, his head buried against her. Khushi hugged him back as he whispered, “My Ma! I missed you so much! It was hard work, but Dad helped me get through it.”
Unwittingly, a tear dropped out of Khushi’s eye. Her heart had responded openly to Vishal calling her Ma like he always used to. At the time Khushi had thought he addressed her such because she was another woman in his father’s life. He had always called Arnav Dad and Aparna had always been addressed as “Mom”. Shrugging thoughts of Aparna aside for the moment, Khushi ruffled his hair.
Her voice was husky, as she said, “I-I’m glad he was there to support you.”
They had almost reached the bottom of the stairs. Arnav stood aside with Aarush and Ayush holding his hands. They were looking at Khushi and Vishal. Arnav came forward with both his sons and introduced them to each other.
“Vishal, these are your brothers- this is Aarush and this naughty boy here who’s wriggling is the youngest of you all; Ayush. Aarush, Ayush, this is your elder brother Vishal.”
All three looked at each other. Vishal’s face had a wide smile on it, as did Ayush. Aarush however looked at Khushi for confirmation of this information. Khushi nodded and smiled, bringing Vishal forward to meet her sons. “Come, meet your brothers Vishal.”
Vishal hugged both his brothers who hugged back with total acceptance. If their mother said he was their brother, then he was. It was a few minutes before Aarush’s smile was replaced again by a frown. Khushi closed her eyes in mortification as she knew the question that was about to come up. Her son Aarush was nothing if not like his father. He would definitely have been analyzing the information given and come up with a conclusion. And what was more, just like his father, he was going to be blunt about it and say it out loud. She was right.
“Mommy told us long time back about you. She also said she had to leave you and Dad because you had another mother.” He looked at Khushi and frowned, “So do we have two Mommys?”
She was about to answer when Vishal laughed a bitter laugh, “Oh no, Aarush. That is not true, not exactly.” He hugged Khushi who stood beside him. He looked up at her, his face serious and said, “I know I was not born from her like you guys, but she is my only Ma.”
While Khushi was still trying to speak past the lump in her throat, never mind bring all her scattered thoughts together, Vishal looked at his brothers, oblivious to the chaos Khushi’s heart and mind was in.
He said firmly, “We have only one mother Aarush. We don’t have two Mommys.” At Aarush’s still confused expression, he elaborated, “Let me explain. Come let us sit on the sofa. My legs ache, you know. I got a new foot.”
“What happened to the old one?” Ayush asked with child-like ignorance.
Vishal looked at him sadly, “I lost it brother.”
“How?” Ayush asked again.
Vishal sighed, evading the question, “I lost it when I was 2 years old.”
Ayush looked at Vishal and said, “Our teacher says we are born only with one pair of legs and we must eat well to keep them healthy. We learned about body parts in our class.” He looked around and told everyone importantly.
The family, that was sitting already and listening to the entire dialogue, smiled and nodded.
Ayush was not done with his questions however. His eyes glinted with morbid curiosity of a child as he asked, “So when you lost it, was it an accident? Were you walking by yourself?” At Vishal’s affirmative nod, he whispered, “Was there a lot of blood?”
“Ayush!” Khushi gasped, scandalized. She put her hand on Vishal’s head immediately as if to protect him, as she scolded her youngest son, “You must not ask questions like that! Apologise.”
As Ayush’s lower lip trembled with the reprimand. Arnav picked up his youngest son and tickled him, “Bloodthirsty child! Yes, there was blood but Vishal was very brave.”
Ayush smiled radiantly at his father, “I was sure there must be blood involved. Teacher says when there is accident, there is always lot of blood.” He looked at Vishal and said, “Sorry brother.”
Vishal seemed to be overcoming a lump in his throat as he said huskily, “Not a problem little brother. You can ask me anything, anytime.”
Aarush had a frown on his face as well. He was looking at his elder brother, his eyes understanding some of what was being said, “So – it must have hurt a lot when you lost your foot? We had a boy like that in our class. He said it hurt a lot when he tried to walk with stick. He couldn’t get a new foot though. Maybe that’s why he was always sad.”
Vishal empathized, “Yes, that must be it. Were you his friend then?”
Ayush and Aarush nodded enthusiastically, as Aarush replied, “Oh yes! He couldn’t run or anything but we studied together and played Snakes and Ladders too! He came to our house quite frequently. Mommy always gave him Barfi; he likes it very much you know.”
Arnav looked at Khushi, his eyes betraying the overwhelming tenderness he felt for his wife. At his son’s admission of how Khushi gave extra affection to that physically disabled friend of his, his feelings threatened to overflow. He heard the women in his family sniffing behind them.
Deciding enough tears had been shed today, he said loudly, “ I’m thinking of throwing a party and introduce all my sons together.”
“Great idea bhai!” enthused Aakash. Payal nodded in acceptance. She was, it seemed to Khushi, used to their rich lifestyle now. Payal had a glow about her that Khushi had never seen before. Good for her!- thought she.
Aarush pulled on Vishal’s sleeve. Vishal bent down to hear what his brother had to say and then gave a very un-boyish like giggle. All three brothers went on with their talk in excited whispers, until Khushi asked, “What is going on here? What are you boys talking about in whispers?”
“It’s a secret Ma.” Said Vishal with a beaming smile towards his brothers. The twins nodded vigorously. Khushi opened her mouth but closed it again with a snap at a look from Arnav. His look said, “Leave the kids alone. Let them talk.” Reluctantly, she nodded at him and turned away to the elders of the family.
“Naniji, I don’t think a party will be a good idea so soon. We still need to get used to- I mean, Aarush and Ayush will have to get used to the lifestyle here and we—“
“Khushi, my child- all will happen in its time I assure you. However, I agree here with Arnav that a party is a good idea. All three grandsons of Raizada clan will be introduced. Along with that, the news of the newcomer will also be celebrated.”
Senior Mrs. Raizada, then pointedly looked towards Payal with warmth in her eyes. Khushi gasped and shouted, “Jiji, you are going to have a baby!”
“Shhh!!” Khushi was shushed by Payal, who turned a rosy pink.
After much of hugging and cheerful talk, everyone departed taking Aarush and Ayush with them. It was the first night together for Arnav and Khushi. Despite Khushi’s protests, Arnav’s suggestion was deemed right. They needed to spend time together, to re-engage the feelings and talk.
Nervous, Khushi walked upstairs with Arnav, to enter into the domain that she had left behind five years back. Their bedroom.
It was with a heavy heart that Khushi locked the door of the house she had spent her last five years in. Tears had gathered in the corner of her eyes; tears she wouldn’t allow herself to shed. Even when Savita came to wish her good bye, Khushi smiled cheerfully, assuring her that she will be back from time to time. She behaved as if her heart was not full of misgivings at going away from this place- her sanctuary when she needed it the most.
She looked back once as she reached the car where Arnav and her sons were waiting for her. Two tears made their way out of her eyes, onto her cheeks as she mentally thanked the house and the much loved previous house owner for giving them a happy place to live. She sat in the car and looked straight ahead. Aarush and Ayush, she knew were happy to be where ever she was, where ever they thought their father could live with them.
They had, as kids do, accepted the facts quickly, without shedding any tears over it. They had been sad the previous evening when they had been told of their departure from Allahabad and arrival into busy city called New Delhi. Arnav had spent time with them, patiently explaining the situation, as Khushi sat next to him, her hand in his. The flight to Delhi from Allahabad had been full of chatter, with boys wanting to know everything, as they incessantly questioned their father. Aarush, Ayush and Arnav sat together while Khushi preferred to sit on the other side of the aisle, by the window.
Arnav knew she wanted space and time to gather her thoughts and he had given it. For that Khushi was thankful. As they landed in Delhi and stepped out of the airport, Khushi’s heart quickened. Their driver waited outside in the parking lot, to take them home.
The journey home was completed in silence from Khushi while the kids chattered on. Arnav patiently replied to all their questions and from time to time, kept his eyes on Khushi. He fully appreciated how difficult this time was for Khushi and how much she needed this time alone to herself. Soon they reached Shantivan.
Trembling inside with anxiety, Khushi stepped out of the car. Arnav held her other hand and squeezed it tight to reassure her. Aarush and Ayush both exclaimed with awe when they had their first glimpse of Shantivan. They all held hands. Arnav held on to Aarush’s hand while Ayush was holding Khushi’s. She looked up at Arnav, seeking reassurance again. Arnav smiled, bent and kissed her forehead, saying, “ Everyone is waiting for you my darling. Welcome home.”
Khushi smiled a ghost of a smile, still anxious. Her heart eased a little though when Arnav held on to her as the door opened.
Khushi saw a sea of faces- all too familiar faces and tears gathered in her eyes. Payal stood inside the door, holding the Kalash while Anjali stood beside her, holding the puja thali. Khushi held on tight to
For Khushi, it was a bittersweet homecoming. Everything that had happened to her in Raizada house ran in front of her eyes, as if it was a film that was being rewinded. She remembered her first entry into Shantivan, Anjali’s loving care, Naniji’s sweetness and understanding, Akash & her own sister Payal’s love and consequently their wedding. She also remembered all the happenings during the wedding, how her own had occurred quite accidentally and forcefully, how things had changed, how Arnav had changed. But most of all, she remembered her re-marriage and her entrance into this house that had become the home of her heart and the events that followed it.
Every nook and corner of this house reminded her of the love shared by herself and Arnav and then, the intense sorrow of leaving it all behind, for his good. Two tears slipped from her eyes and flowed over on to her cheeks, as her lips smiled with joy of seeing Shantivan again. This place was her haven of happiness and she had to leave it behind. How had she borne it then? How will she ever bear to live here again, now that it must have been tainted by new memories of Arnav and his ex-girlfriend?
“Khushiji.” Anjali’s wobbling voice reached across her ears and Khushi turned around. The whole family stood in front of her, still waiting in the hall. Everyone had tears in their eyes, including Mamaji and Akash and their faces were alight with joy. Naniji was sobbing in her handkerchief. Buaji stood beside her; her face a picture of unbearable happiness, her hands joined to thank NandKishore. Beside Buaji stood her mother & father.
“Khushi, meri bacchii.” Garima sobbed out a whisper.
“Amma” Khushi whispered at first and then cried out loud, running towards her mother. As she reached within inches of her mother, she stopped and stared at her mother’s face. Tears ran down her cheeks as she gazed lovingly at her mother, who couldn’t seem to control her shaking or crying. In the next second, Khushi was in her mother’s arms who hugged her fiercely.
“Amma.. I’m so sorry Amma. Please Amma, don’t cry. I’m very sorry to have hurt you. Please forgive me Amma, please!” Khushi said brokenly, pleading for forgiveness again and again as she held on tightly to her mother.
“Nahi Bitiya, nahi.. rote nahi. I’m so happy that you have finally come back. Don’t cry my daughter. I love you. I am not angry, there is nothing to forgive. Oh my child, how you must have suffered all alone!” Garima; Khushi’s mother said, consoling her, kissing her forehead and then hugging her again.
The storm of sorrow and guilt subsided a little in Khushi’s heart as she met everyone one by one. Everyone had truly welcomed her back home, but her eyes kept on looking for traces of Vishal and his mother. Their sons had been introduced and made much of, by all the elders of the house. Anjali had gone completely overboard when she hugged them and told them she was their father’s sister; their aunt. Arnav had been glad to see that they had liked her immediately, though they did become a little wary of her, as she kept on hugging them and not letting them go. All in all, they had been kissed and hugged and welcomed in true Raizada style. Both of them seemed anxious and wary as they met everyone, though they did lap up all the affection. Once they’d been introduced to all, they had come back to hold on to Arnav’s hand as their mother still seemed busy with others.
Arnav had been standing quietly until now. He had watched the union of his family with Khushi; his eyes hiding a well of emotions. Khushi had broken down when she’d first hugged her mother and father. It had almost made Arnav want to hug her himself and console her, to tell her everything. But he held on to his control. As she met with everyone, he saw Khushi’s eyes straying anxiously, looking everywhere. Arnav knew what she was searching for.
He looked up and signaled to the teenage boy standing in the balcony. At his signal, the boy slowly came down the stairs, as if afraid of his reception by the party downstairs. He looked at Arnav for confidence, at Arnav’s nodding smile, continued downstairs. His feet encasings were new and still stiff. A quick step forward almost made him slip. He held on to the banister with a gasp, a mutter and steadied himself. And he immediately caught Khushi’s attention.
The week was slipping by too quickly for Khushi. She tried to think about what Arnav had said, but somehow first of her two days slipped by quickly. On the third night, Khushi put her kids to sleep and sat thinking, outside on the verandah of her house. The same questions that had plagued her since the day Arnav had gone came back to her again. After a while, she went into the living room and sat down on the sofa.
Was she being unfair to her own children? In trying to find justice for a boy, had she been the cause of injustice to others? Had she hurt people she’d loved the most- Arnav, Naniji and her own parents? Had she taken a wrong step all those years ago?
She was so confused. Arnav wanted her back, but when she asked about Aparna, he wouldn’t say anything about her. The least he could do was tell her what happened to her, and his son. Had she- No, she shook her head. She still didn’t think that she’d misjudged the situation then. She knew she had to leave.
Perhaps it had been wrong of her to not have told Arnav about their sons, but she had a valid reason, didn’t she? Now that he knew of their existence and wanted to be with them, would it be right of her to keep them apart? And if she – she shuddered as she thought of it- if she let her sons live with him, go with him- would she be able to keep her distance from him, knowing he belonged to someone else in her mind? It didn’t matter what he said, what their marriage certificate said. What had mattered to Khushi, still did in fact was that Arnav had another son, and had been claimed by another woman long before she’d ever even known him. These thoughts went round and round in her head, until she fell asleep right there on the sofa.
Next morning, she woke up with a crick in her neck. Realising where she’d slept, she groaned out loud. Still yawning, she went to her door and opened it to get the newspaper lying outside.
As she took the paper inside, she glanced at the headline on the front page. The newspaper fluttered from her hand and fell on the floor, as shock took hold of her body. Right on the front page was a picture of Arnav, attending an Iftar party with a couple of leading politicians. Along with him was his son, Vishal. The headline screamed, “Tycoon ASR announces the return of his wife and sons.” As if in a trance, she picked up the paper and started reading it, absently going into her room and brushing her teeth.
The newspaper spoke briefly about the party, politicians from various political sections attending the party with details followed on the next page. Khushi turned to the next page which went on about businessmen attending the party, in particular Arnav Singh Raizada, who was said to be close to the upcoming and leading politician, who was in line for the post of the Prime Minister of the country.
It said that upon being questioned about the young man who accompanied him, Arnav had formally and finally introduced the press to his adopted son, twelve year old Vishal Singh Raizada. Vishal had been suffering from walking disability some years ago, but he had bravely overcome it.
The writer reminded his readers about how five years back, media had widely reported about Arnav Singh Raizada’s separation from his much loved wife due to reasons still unknown, and addition of an adopted son in his life. The reason for separation was rumoured to be the boy who had been adopted by ASR. It had also been said that he was in fact ASR’s illegitimate son, born to his ex-girlfriend; a claim which Arnav had vehemently refuted. Mr. Raizada had opted out of personal functions and Page 3 parties, attending charities and other political for business functions only. Mrs. Arnav Singh Raizada’s whereabouts are still unknown to public at large.
Tonight ASR had smilingly volunteered the information that soon his estrangement with his wife would come to an end. Not only that, he mentioned that he had two sons from his wife and nothing more would please him than to have all three sons by his side. However he gave his usual “no comment” reply on the whereabouts of his adopted son’s mother. His son added to his announcement by saying that both father and son were happy with this new development. He furthermore added that he remembered Mrs. Raizada well and looked forward to calling her Mum soon.
The article ended with a note, that the reporter had no doubt that even after all these years, Arnav Singh Raizada carried a torch for his long separated wife.
“How dared he!!! He had no right to announce this while I’m still thinking about it!! Arnav Singh Raizada, you stupid, dictatorial Laad Governer! Wait till I get my hands around your neck. I’ll squeeze the life out of you!” Khushi swore loudly as she got ready for her shower. “I hate that man! I’m going to teach him a lesson. Soon be joining be damned!”
Her anger had not dissipated even after she’d sent children to school and started preparing sweets for the day’s business. Her thoughts were focused for some time on the piece of information she’d read in the newspaper, about Arrnav adopting Vishal as his legitimate son. Khushi was happy about it, even though a little mystified about Aparna’s whereabouts and Arnav’s refusal to accept Vishal as his real son, even though illegitimate. A part of her mind tried to process this information, but it was the other part which had her total attention- the part which was still outraged, that Arnav had declared that they were back together again.
She was making jalebis when her phone beeped. Khushi looked at her phone and her anger boiled over. It was an SMS from Arnav saying, “Trust you’ve reached to the right decision. See you in four days. “
Khushi’s eyes misted red as she read the message once again. Without a second’s hesitation, she deleted it and called up her lawyer, asking him to draw the divorce papers and send it to her husband’s residence. That would teach him a lesson!
By afternoon, Khushi had received news from her lawyer. He had drawn the divorce papers and sent it across to ASR’s residence; Raizada House. Arnav would be served papers by tomorrow morning. Khushi thanked her lawyer and continued to work.
By late evening, she was a mass of nerves. She went to the park with the children, played with them, gave them dinner and put them off to sleep. Her anger had cooled down sufficiently now to make her nervous, as she thought of Arnav’s reaction after seeing the papers. She had no idea what she would do if he filed for the custody of children. She had not enough money to fight him. Maybe she’d been too hasty in her anger, but – she justified in her head- she had also been right. He had been trying to force her to do his bidding. He had tried to twist her hand by that announcement to the press. Khushi Kumari Gupta would never be dictated by anyone! She would make sure that the children would never be harmed due to any of her actions- or his. She went to sleep, reassuring herself again and again.
“KHUSHI SINGH RAIZADA!!” Arnav’s bellow reached her ears before the doors burst open with a loud crack and an angry Arnav strode in to her house the next afternoon.
Khushi gasped as she saw Arnav striding towards her, murder in his eyes. She was in the shop, setting things to right, having served the last of her customers before lunch. His eyes gleamed with rage, so much so that Khushi wanted to run as far away from him as possible at that moment. But of course, her pride wouldn’t allow her that. So she clutched the pallu of her yellow sari, trying to gather her courage, as she stood her ground.
Arnav reached her in a few steps and took hold of her shoulders. He was so angry he could throttle her!!! As it was, he shook her hard as he roared, “How dare you send me those vile divorce papers!!”
Khushi’s head swam as he shook her. She stammered, “A-Arnav, I-“
She never got a chance to say anything as she was picked up in his arms and on his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried into the living room, up the stairs and into her bedroom. She squeaked in outrage as he tossed her down on the bed, and stood over her.
“Enough of this nonsense! I thought if I gave you enough time, you’d come to your senses. But no– Khushi Singh Raizada has no sense whatsoever! Even after I explicitly told you that I’ll never divorce you, you send me the divorce papers! Pack your bags. I’ve had it with you. You and the children are coming back with me right now!”
“If you think your bellowing like this and ordering me about is going to change my decision in any way, you’re mistaken Arnav Singh Raizada!” Khushi spat back, very angry at him now. She continued, “How dare you come round here and start dictating me as if I was a subordinate of yours! I’m a person in my own right, an intelligent person at that. I can take my own decisions and if I feel I don’t want to come back with you, I won’t!”
“Oh yes you would, you headstrong fool of a woman!” Arnav said in a tight voice, his eyes gleaming with an unholy look, “Unless you want us to fight for our sons’ custody? I will make sure I win Khushi, and I’ll also make sure you never get to see them again- ever!”
“You wouldn’t! “ Khushi gasped at his cruelty.
“I would and you know it. I thought giving you time would make you realize that I’m not such a bad bet. But did you even think about coming back?” Arnav bit out.
Khushi looked away from him and sighed. Then she looked at him again and said calmly, “Yes I did. I thought about it and was – had almost reached the decision that we could get back together again.” Her eyes lost their softness and became hard as she added, “And then I saw the newspaper.”
Arnav became still as she said that. Khushi continued, trying to keep emotion out of her voice, “ I saw the picture of you and Vishal. I’m glad he’s able to walk now.”
“And?” Arnav waited, sitting down by the edge of the bed.
Khushi’s eyes flashed, “You had no right to announce to the world that we were coming back together again, especially since I had yet to say yes! How could you!”
“And so you sent me the divorce papers to challenge my announcement.” Arnav thought out loud. Khushi shook her head, trying to not shed any tears at the hurt she still felt at Aparna’s announcement about Vishal and her relationship with Arnav.
“I’m happy for Vishal and convinced that he can be a good son to you. Why you feel the need to hide his parentage has nothing to do with me. It is between you and Aparna of course, but I think it is time you did the right thing and married her. All those years back, I-I had already given you guys my blessings when I left.”
“So you deliberately left me and decided to raise our sons by yourself. You didn’t give a chance to our relationship.” Arnav’s statement, said in a deceptively soft voice belied the seething rage he was in. He looked at Khushi.
Khushi quaked with fear inside but put up a brave front. She gave him a calm look and her voice was just as controlled and quiet as she said, “I thought it was for the best. You already have a son so you definitely don’t need mine. I thought the divorce papers would have made things easier for you; easier to marry your long lost lover and adopt your son. I thought-“
“You thought wrong. You knew I loved you, yet you left me behind with some woman and her son. You broke my heart. You never asked me about her, just took it for granted that since I and Aparna were together before, we had to be again. You did not once ask me what I wanted. ”
Arnav’s voice was icy as if he was near the edge of a precipice. He spoke through gritted teeth, his anger evident,” Not satisfied with that, you took four years of my sons’ lives from me. You shall pay for it Khushi Singh Raizada; starting now.”
Before Khushi could make a coherent reply or even guess what he would do, he pulled her towards him, in his arms and kissed her. When he let her go, Khushi could barely contain her body. Her mind was clouded with want, her body screaming at her to be one with him. Her mind struggled as she became divided between her love for him and her own decision.
Arnav took deep breaths to control his breathing. He held her close to his chest as he said, “Make arrangements. Close your business and your house. You and our sons are coming home with me.”
“I won’t.” Khushi replied, pushing him away and like a child shaking her head, bringing her knees close to her chest and laying her head on them.
Arnav shifted close to where she was sitting on the bed. She looked up at him, startled. He bend close to her face and said, “I will not leave you alone anymore Khushi Singh Raizada.”
Khushi shivered as she felt his breath on her face. She cursed inwardly. Now was not the time to feel the desire. If only her body would listen!
As if Arnav couldn’t help himself, he caught her hair tied into a plait in his hand and brought her mouth close to his. Khushi’s breath hitched in her throat, the pulse at the base of her throat throbbing visibly. She tried to avert her head but Arnav pulled it back with her hair in his hand, bringing tears to her eyes. She cried out,
“Why don’t you marry Aparna and end this all!”
“I can’t. I am married to you.” Arnav spoke softly, a smirk on his face, still holding her hair and keeping her head close to his. He so badly wanted to kiss those juicy lips again, but he had to bide his time. The mention of Aparna helped calm down his libido and focus on the matter at hand. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt her if she knew a bit of the truth- thought he.
“I told you, I can free you. Y-you should do that for Vishal.” Khushi’s voice had almost turned to a whisper now that Arnav’s mouth was so close to hers. She had to force herself to keep on talking of Aparna, keep herself away from temptation of placing her lips over his. Her lips felt dry and on fire. He was looking down at her lips and she couldn’t help as she licked them, and then quickly put her tongue back in her mouth as she saw his hunger flaring. She looked down and closed her eyes to avoid his gaze, trying to stay calm. “I-I c-can free you to be with Aparna and Vishal.”
Arnav tipped her chin up and brought his lips closer to hers, whispering against them, “Listen to me wife because I will keep on repeating until you get it through your thick head. I have only ever loved you, still do. You’re stupid and downright blind at times but I still do love you. And I know you love me too. ” Before she could object, Arnav kissed swiftly and got up, saying,
“You’re intelligent enough to know that when things seem confusing, there’s another side of the truth hiding from you.”
Khushi looked at him quizzically and he sighed, ” Pack your bags while I see to the children. And while you’re doing that, start joining the dots Khushi. You’re going to regret the day you left me once you have reached the final truth. When you do learn the truth, I want you to also learn to trust me and listen to me before you become a martyr ever again. For now, I can only tell you that neither Vishal nor I want Aparna with us. We only want you. Come back to us.”
Discomfort was the word that she was looking for, she told herself. They were at the dinner table, everyone eating quietly. Unlike yesterday, there was no talking today. The children were quiet and so was Arnav. Khushi had no idea what he was thinking about, but he kept on looking at children and her, back and forth. Was he trying to come to a decision?, she wondered.
“Would you like to continue living here or would you like to come with me Delhi? It has good schools you know.”
His question startled her. As Khushi looked up, she saw that the question was not directed at her, instead it was the children he was asking this question to. They both looked at him, with Aarush looking away and Ayush opening his mouth to say something but closing it tight shut, after looking at the reaction of his brother.
“Khushi?” Arnav directed his question to her this time.
Khushi squirmed in her chair. What could she say? She needed time to think. Her children wanted him, just as much as Vishal would. She couldn’t decide whom should she stand up for. She looked at him, torment clear in her eyes this time. “I don’t know yet. We need time.”
Arnav looked at her and nodded. Then he looked down and continued eating in silence. Khushi had no idea that the question was meant as much for him as for her. Now that he had found her one and only love, and his sons, he didn’t want to let them go. To leave them behind and go back to Delhi was unthinkable for him. Yet, he knew he had to leave them alone for the moment. He had to go back to Delhi and set the wheels in motion. It was time the truth was out and in front of Khushi.
He had heard the conversation that had taken place earlier in the evening between mother and sons. His heart had been slashed with sharp swords of pain again and again as he’d seen Khushi dealing with their sons, telling them to let him go, forget him. He had loved Khushi all the more for her pain, her brave effort to keep things gentle, but he had loved his son Aarush even more at his bravery in not letting her see how much he wanted to be with his father. He was proud of his son. He swore then and there, he would make sure things fall in place soon.
They wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with them. He was aware that Khushi loved him just as much as he loved her. He was still in love with her. All these years apart had done nothing to douse the flame of passion or lessened the love that burned bright between them.
He could see her torment. She had left because she had thought Vishal needed a stable family. She had sacrificed her love for the sake of his family and their happiness. He closed his eyes to hide the pain, thinking of the time ,when she’d find out all these years wasted between them had been for nothing. Her sacrifice had been in vain, for he never had any family, any son. But not yet. He had to give her time- and himself too. He had to leave.
They were all eating ice cream for dessert when Arnav made his announcement.
“I’ll be leaving to go to Delhi tomorrow. I have work that must be done.”
He heard a sob and looked for its source. Ayush had tears on his cheeks and was sobbing. Aarush got up & wiped the tears off his brother’s face. He held Ayush’s hand, looking straight at Arnav.
It killed Arnav from inside to see how disheartened his sons looked. Aarush’s voice held too much bitterness for a four year old.
“We knew you wouldn’t stay with us. Mommy is right. We are better off without you because you will leave us when you don’t want us.”
“Beta Aarush-“ Khushi started, but Aarush held out his hand to stop her, “It’s okay Mommy. We love you and we’re glad we have you. We don’t want anyone else.”
Khushi’s eyes filled with tears as she saw her sons walking to their room, their ice cream uneaten. She hurt for her sons and their pain, and was sad to see her Aarush sounded far more wise beyond his years. What a burden to carry for a four year old!! And she was responsible for it, she told herself disgustedly. She should never have let Arnav meet them in the first place! They had been happier not knowing him.
“Khushi-“ Arnav tried to explain but Khushi cut him off angrily,
“If you had to leave, you could have at least waited to make the announcement until they’d finished ice cream. I had been right in thinking you shouldn’t have come into our lives. They had been happy before- they- “ she wiped her tears angrily, “And now they’re broken hearted. I should’ve stopped you from ever raising their hopes. Go back to Delhi Arnav Singh Raizada. Go back to your son and girlfriend. I never want to see you again.”
She got up from her chair and started collecting the dishes, continuing, “You can pack and leave right now if you want. I’m sure you can call your driver or call a taxi to come and take you. I don’t want to see you after this.”
“You’re over reacting as usual, Khushi Singh Raizada.” Arnav’s cold voice was like a tight slap on her face. “I didn’t say I’m leaving for ever. I am giving you time to decide what you want to do about the question I asked you before. I’m letting you decide — getting out of your way to let you make your decision without any coercion.”
Khushi still had her back to him, but he kept on addressing her back, his voice soft now. “I would gladly kill myself before I ever have to hurt my sons again after this. You wanted time? You got it. I will leave tomorrow morning and come back within a week. If you don’t want to move back to Delhi with our sons, I will make plans to live here in Allahabad.”
Khushi turned around then, her tears still running down her cheeks, her shock evident on her face. She carefully put down the plates back on the table and said, “You are leaving because of me?”
Arnav got up and came to her. He lifted her chin up and looked into her eyes, gently wiping the tears away from her cheeks and replied, “Yes Khushi, I am doing this for you. But I can’t let you or our sons get away from me ever again.”
She displaced his hand from her chin, “Why Arnav? Why do it? I know the kids are hurting right now, but they will hurt more if you leave them later. Is it not better if you leave them right now and never come back?”
“They’re my sons and you’re my wife. I can never turn my back upon you.” Arnav said, his anger rising. “You left me before without any reason and then hid my sons’ existence from me, Khushi. You should be glad I’m not forcing you to come back with me right this instant.”
“But you have one more son. And what about Aparna?” Khushi remained adamant. “I left you years back because I couldn’t digest the thought of you having lied to me. You had a past that you told me nothing about, yet you knew all about mine.”
She picked up the plates once more and went into the kitchen, Arnav following her. His anger rose as she spoke of the past. She had never asked him for any explanations. She knew nothing and yet had the nerve to pass judgment on him!!
As if encouraged by his silence, Khushi continued, “I had even thought you’d ask me for- for a d-divorce.” Her tongue slipped on the word. She hated the word as well as its meaning but it had to be said. “But you never did. Does Aparna not want to get married to you still? I am still agreeable to it you know, just as much as I was all those years back in my letter to you.”
Arnav remembered the letter he had received from her a month after her departure. That letter had nearly killed him. He had been on the verge of solving the entire mess that had been created by Aparna, but her letter had delayed things. She had left a note when she’d left, but where her note had upset him to the point of depression, her letter had angered him. How dare she ask for a divorce!! It had shattered him so much ! He had been so distracted by his sadness that he had ran his car into the tree and laid in the hospital for the next few months, struggling to stay alive. He would never let her go, and he hadn’t.
Now, he said, “I am giving you a week Khushi. I want your decision when I’m back. Tell the kids or better still I’ll leave them a letter.”
Khushi shook her head in denial at his offer. No good would come out of it, she was thinking.
She gasped as she was suddenly caught in Arnav’s arms from behind, with him growling, “Here or there, I will never let you go. Get used to the idea Khushi Singh Raizada. Tum meri thi, meri ho aur meri he rahogi, jitna main tumhara tha, hoon aur rahunga. Distance has not separated us, years haven’t and you know it.” He held her tighter, closer as he whispered, “We are Arnav and Khushi and we are meant to be together, until the day we die.”
Saying this, he let go of her abruptly and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Khushi prey to desire, love, nerves, anger, sadness and confusion.
When she woke up in the morning, Arnav was gone.