Once inside the house, Khushi immediately went in search of her grandmother and Payal. She was shaking from the encounter. Oh how could she have- why did she have to feel this pull towards that hateful man! She will never forgive him. He could say sorry till he was blue in the face and she’d not relent! NEVER!
She found Payal, her grandmother and Mallika all sitting together. They looked up as she went in and Mallika exclaimed first, “Where the hell did you go off to? Everyone wanted to meet you and congratulate you but you just have to go off in your own world! Where the hell have you been and why are you panting?”
Khushi put a hand on her head as dizziness was close by. All three women stood up immediately from their respective places, exclaiming in concern. Mrs Gupta had of coure, already guessed what had happened and knew that sooner or later this stage would have arrived. She’d have preferred later but the youth today was so impatient! Ah these young lovers!
Khushi could feel darkness enveloping her. Payal swore softly under her breath and held her tight. She made her sit down while Mallika ran to get her a glass of water. When she came back, Khushi was still lying on the sofa with her eyes closed. Baffled, Mallika asked Payal, “What’s wrong with her? She was fine all this time and now.. what has happened to her Payal di?”
Payal made Mallika sit down who looked like she’d burst into tears. “It’s nothing. You know how Khushi is, she’d run around and then fall down exhausted. That’s all. Maybe we should just call it a day and take her home. After all, we have to be back here tomorrow for your engagement ceremony.”
Mallika looked somewhat comforted by Payal’s words but Khushi felt like someone was pushing her deeper into the quagmire of hurt. She opened her eyes and exclaimed, “I want to go home now Jiji. Take me home now.” she looked at Mallika and composed her features desperately, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, okay? Come home.”
Mallika hugged her once and let her go. Mrs. Gupta clucked like mother hen as Payal helped Khushi into the car. Once home Khushi couldn’t wait to go into her room. Mrs. Gupta asked her if she wanted to eat something but Khushi declined. She just wanted to rest and be alone. Payal looked at her worriedly as he climbed up the stairs to go into her room.
“I hope Arnavji knows what he is doing. How could he have just come out like that grandma? He should’ve done it when we were present.”
Mrs Gupta sat down in her favourite chair and picked up her knitting. “No Payal. It is for the best that he met her alone. They need to do this by themselves. Young love needs some privacy. Khushi is very private when it comes to her emotions, my dear. She may not be as mature and sensible yet as you are when it comes to feelings and expressing those feelings but she definitely would feel humiliated if Arnav would meet her in front of us and try to explain or ask for her forgiveness.”
Payal sighed and looked up at Khushi’s room. The door was closed and all was quiet. “Maybe you’re right grandma. Khushi does keep to herself when it comes to her feelings. I just hope she’s alright.”
“Leave her alone and she will be. She’s nothing if not strong, my granddaughter.” Mrs Gupta announced, her hands busy knitting but her mind working toward a plan. No one need know yet how she could help them but help them she would.
Khushi fell on her bed after she’d taken off her evening finery and had a shower. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t remove the feel of Arnav’s hands on her shoulders, her hands, her face, her waist. He was so much a part of her that every time she touched herself in those areas, she could feel his touch. She had cried in the shower and called him names, trying in vain to scrub herself where he’d touch, to remove the feel of his hands but she couldn’t.
How was she going to live the rest of her life is just one meeting with him put her right on the edge of insanity? If such a time came again and she accepted his plea would he leave his judgement on the side and stand by her, supporting her? No, she didn’t think that would be how Arnav Singh Raizada would behave. He would probably call her names again and she would be humiliated again, he would break her heart again if she gave him the chance.
Tears welled up in her eyes again and she angrily wiped them away. Did he even – had she been so wrong when she’d fallen for him? Had she mistaken the lust in his eyes as love? She got up from the bed and went to sit down on the indoor swing by the window and held her head in her hands. She had to be strong; she had to learn to be strong. She couldn’t give in no matter how many times he asked for forgiveness. He didn’t trust her and that, in her book was the basis enough to break all contact with him.
Restlessness seemed to be her companion for tonight. Khushi got up and added a shawl to her attire of silk pyjamas in baby blue before getting out of the house and going towards Sophie’s kennel. It was summer and the air was cooler than normal but Khushi loved the weather in Nainital. She whistled to call Sophie who came racing to be with her mistress. Khushi bent down on one knee and rubbed her ears, “Yes, I know, I know. I didn’t see you today but you know how it was today. Today was for Mallika. Want to go walking with me girl?”
At Sophie’s enthusiastic bark, Khushi smiled and started walking. Sophie ran rings around her, woofing, finding a stick now and then and bringing it for Khushi to throw. It was fun to play with her and after a while, Khushi laughed loudly, “You always want more, don’t you darling.. greedy bitch!” Slowly, Khushi found herself relaxing and coming back to her normal self. Sophie always had a calming effect on her.
“Come then, it’s late and time to go in.” saying this, Khushi led Sophie back in the house.
The jitters that had plagued her last evening returned in full force when Khushi woke up and thought about getting ready to attend Mallika’s engagement. She couldn’t- she won’t be able to face him again, she was sure! He would be there and how could she avoid him when he’d be present in front of her eyes all the time? He would be there, he would be watching her and she- no, she couldn’t do this to herself again.
Still in bed, she called up Mallika’s private line. She knew her friend would be up by now, shouting orders at everyone around. “Hey there pretty girl. How’s things coming along?” Khushi spoke as Mallika picked up the phone.
“Argh! No, no you can’t put that vase here in my room Shruti! I am not as sophisticated as you are. I’m sure to break it. Plus orchids don’t match my mood. I need sunflowers today. Yellow in red and if you can’t do it, to hell with Mum’s instructions, I’ll get up and do it myself. What say?” Mallika spoke to someone, her voice hopeful.
Khushi knew the one who was being cajoled into removing Mrs Negi’s favourite orchids from Mallika’s room- Shruti; Mallika’s younger sister. There was a time when Shruti was the more dominant of the two sisters but tables had turned last season with Shruti failing badly at luring NK away from Mallika because she thought he wasn’t good enough for her sister and both sisters confronting each other. Shruti had finally learnt her lesson and since then on, two sisters behaved quite amicably towards each other.
“If you’d stop instructing her long enough and let the orchids be, auntyji herself would remove them.” Khushi spoke into Mallika’s ear, grinning to herself.
“Khushi, my love!” Mallika’s cheerful greeting came forth. “Are you getting ready to come here? I need your help on so many things I tell you! The engagement dress has arrived and the jewellery is still lying around in one of the cupboards. I don’t remember where. And the make-up girl is about to come in by 11 and I have to be ready by 1:30. I swear to God Khushi, I’m very nervous today! Come soon yaar.”
The grin faded from Khushi’s face. “Mallika, I don’t think I can come. Is it okay if Payal jiji comes and helps you out?”
WHAT!” Mallika’s voice crossed the octave at Khushi’s words. “What do you mean you can’t come? Can’t come right now or can’t come—Khushi don’t tease me!”
Khushi’s voice wobbled. She knew she was letting her friend down but she had to be selfish, she HAD to protect herself from Arnav. She didn’t want to break into pieces again. “Mallilka, honey I wouldn’t tease you on something as serious as this. I mean it. I can’t come to the engagement party. I’ve got to get out of town due to urgent work.”
“I’m coming over.” Mallika simply stated and hung up..bringing full fledged panic into Khushi’s room.
If Mallika came over, there’d be no way she’d let Khushi get away from the engagement. Khushi got up quickly, washed and dressed herself into jeans and a sunny yellow Tee. She had to get out of the house; grandma and Payal could handle Mallika for now. She’d explain later. Adding a sweatshirt over her T-shirt, she ran downstairs to get out but was too late. Mallika was already there, sitting on the sofa with her grandmother, her face red with exertion. She must have driven real fast if she was here in less than 15 minutes! Khushi stopped as she heard her grandmother talk,
“Mallika, there are things about Khushi that are unpredictable. She was sick yesterday and worried about something too. I didn’t think too much on it but now I believe her worries must be related to work.”
“ I don’t care naniji, I will not let her go anywhere today! How can she do this to me naniji.. it’s one of the most important days of my life and my best friend, the only one I’ve had from childhood now tells me she can’t attend my engagement! How unfair is that?” Tears weren’t far away.
Khushi made a move to go forward when she saw Mallika starting to tear up. “Mallika, let me explain. Please darling, you don’t have to upset.”
Mallika whirled around, her eyes full of tears and blazing, You Khushi Kumari Gupta are going to attend my wedding. You get that? I won’t let you go.”
Khushi sighed, “Mallika-“ she tried to explain. Mallika of course, was in no mood to listen. Hysteria was not far behind as she got up.
“You have to come to my engagement party Khushi! I’d never forgive you otherwise. You’re the one who made me and NK confess our love. “Mallika stamped her feet in annoyance and looked at her grandmother. “Naniji, I insist! Please tell her that she’s to come to my engagement party along with the rest of you guys. If she doesn’t I’m not getting engaged. Let NK wait forever!”
Khushi gasped at her friend’s declaration. She’d never thought Mallika would throw such a threat. She went forward, her hands held out, “darling, please! Don’t do this, I’m sorry but-“
“Khushi, I wish to speak to you alone. Mallika, sit here and calm down child. Khushi will attend your engagement party, I promise.” Mrs Gupta spoke quietly but firmly.
“But-“ Khushi tried but had to quiet down with a glare from her grandmother. Mrs Gupta got up and asked Khushi to come along with her. Together, they went into Mrs. Gupta’s room. “Close the door child.” Mrs. Gupta instructed. When Khushi had done that, she patted the side by her sofa. Khushi went and sat down next to her grandmother.
Mrs. Gupta began carefully, keeping her face devoid of any expression, “Khushi, I need an honest answer. Is your decision based on the fact that you ex-fiance is here to attend the engagement?”
Khushi could only gape at her grandmother, with no words coming out her mouth. As if she had spoken her assent, Mrs Gupta continued, “Do you want the world to see Khushi as a weakling? Do you want him to see you as a weakling who backs out of a social event simply because he is around? It is none of my business to know what happened between the two of you and why things stand the way they do but child, I must say I thought you were stronger. You back out of your best friend’s engagement event simply because he is around and you fear he may try talking to you?”
“Grandma- how- you- did he- “Khushi seemed unable to formulate much words, forget asking a question. Grandmother put a hand on her shoulder, “He had called on Payal to let her know that he was in town. He doesn’t you that you’re here Khushi.”
“He does now, grandmother.” Khushi whispered, her throat clogged with tears. At her grandmother’s questioning eyes, she clarified, “I saw him yesterday, he came up to talk to me, said he- he wanted me back.”
“He did? And what did you say child?” Mrs Gupta was outwardly calm as a rock but feared her granddaughter’s reaction inwardly.
“I told him it was impossible for us to get together again. He has said some things that are unforgivable grandmother, I can’t-“
Khushi couldn’t go on as tears rained down her face. Her grandmother nodded sagely and said, “well, if you can’t then you can’t. But does that mean you hide away. I have never taught you to run away from adverse times Khushi. You can’t let your own problems ruin your best friend’s engagement day, can you darling?”
Khushi remained silent, her head down, tears falling. Mrs Gupta squeezed her hand and sighed, “Well, if you really think you can’t face him at a social event where there’d be so many people around you , it’s alright. I’ll try and explain it to Mallika. She may be upset but she’ll come around eventually. Don’t worry child. You go on out to where ever it is you were going.”
Mrs Gupta made to get up after patting Khushi’s hand but Khushi held on. Mrs Gupta sat down again. Khushi put her head in Mrs Gupta’s lap. “I’m scared grandmother. I was hurt badly before. I don’t want to hurt again. I do not – he was – he said he loved me but-“
Mrs Gupta said some choice words under her breath that no woman of her age would utter and then tried to calm her granddaughter. “In life, there are many problems that may crop up and you may feel that it is the end of your life. But it never is. Every attempt that is made to pull you down should make you more determined to get up and move on. You’re a brave one my child. Don’t let anyone pull you down and despair. Get up and face the world like you’ve always done- with smile and spirit. One more thing Khushi- sometimes, people may make mistakes and judge you unfairly. But you may be called equally unfair if you don’t give them their chance of forgiveness. If he wants to talk, let him do so. Give him the chance to explain.”
Khushi looked up, “you really think so? He was cruel to me grandma. Why shouldn’t I be equally cruel to him? He didn’t even look for me when I left! Now that he has found me, he thinks he can take up from where we left off. I don’t- I can’t.”
“Tell him that then child. Tell him it is impossible for you to forgive him so easily for whatever it is that he has done. He was cruel to you, you say. Is it in your nature to be cruel to people you love?” At a startled glance from Khushi, Mrs. Gupta smiled and continued, “I know my child. I know you love him despite all that may have happened between you two. Maybe you should let him know that he will have to earn your forgiveness.”
“And trust grandma?” Khushi asked.
“And trust.” Her grandmother affirmed. “Love is just a word if there is no trust in the relationship. Face him if you have to, if he comes to talk to you and explain this to him. Let the ball fall in his court and wait for his reaction.”
“I don’t know grandma. I’m scared. I have no answers, I am confused. I don’t know if I still love him or not. I don’t know if the hurt I still feel would ever fade away. I don’t even know if I can ever forgive him.” Khushi said. Mrs Gupta laid her hand on Khushi’s head and caressed her hair, “Darling, if you’re scared, you’re not chicken. You’re brave because you are scared and you know it. The thing to do is to face it. Hmm?”
“Khushi stayed quiet for a while, resting her head on her grandmother’s lap and enjoying the love her grandmother showered over her. Then some inner resolve seemed to toughen her. She got up and hugger her grandmother. “Thank you grandmother for being there for me, for not asking me questions and just letting me be.”
“That’s what elders are here for darling. “Mrs Gupta said smiling, her relief plainly there for Khushi to see in that smile. Not that she understood the real reason behind the relief. ‘Now go on out and pacify your friend. Then get ready and we’ll head out to Negi residence. And remember, if you need me, I’m here for you. Have been and always will be. This is your house just as much as it is mine and your refuge from all evils of the world.”
“Oh grandma, I love you! Thank you so much for being there.” Khushi hugged her grandmother, tears filling her eyes again. Both grandmother and granddaughter then wiped each other’s tears and smiled. Slowly they got up and went outside where Mallika was waiting, watching the TV and biting her nails.
As she heard them approaching, she switched the TV off and came forward, “Naniji…”
Khushi quickly came forward and hugged her friend, “I’m sorry for hurting you Mallika, today of all days too! Forgive me?”
Mallika’s eyes narrowed, “ I will if it means you will come to my engagement party and stay glued to me all day long.”
“Done deal!” Khushi smiled widely, making Mallika break into sobs and hugging her. “Thank you Khushi. I was – I didn’t want to face this day without you.”
“Hey, shhh.. it’s alright. Am going to be with you. Am so sorry for putting you through all this today. Now wipe your tears before you get puffy eyes and red nose!”
Khushi quickly hugged her friend tight and further added, “ Let me throw some clothes in a bag and we’ll leave for your place. Grandmother and Payal will follow later.”
Mrs Gupta nodded and hugged Mallika too. “Be happy child. Go on now both of you. We’ll be there soon.”
As the girls went out of the house, Mrs Gupta picked up the phone. It was time for her to talk to Mr Raizada about the next step.