A special mention- Diksha, my friend from Facebook. Get well soon DSR. 🙂
Please remember, flashbacks are in Italics.
“Khushi, so glad you were all able to make it to the exhibition.”
Plenitudes were being mouthed left, right and centre from everywhere by her acquaintance Jhalak who was a part of the art gallery. Khushi had been the main person responsible for arranging this visit thus she was the one being addressed by Jhalak.
Khushi smiled her reply, nodded at her and moved on with the group that she had come with. She was here with her German class group to study a group of paintings that were being exhibited. Being from an exulted background, most girls behaved snobbishly. They walked with their noses in the air, kissing each other’s cheeks perfunctorily and blabbering about paintings. Some of the paintings were really worth talking about, thought Khushi while the others were simply rubbish to her mind.
“I had no idea you were into art and painting.”
At the deep baritone of Arnav’s voice that made Khushi’s nerves tingle from head to toe, she closed her eyes and willed herself to calm down. She turned around and gave a polite smile, “Arnavji, what a surprise to see you here. Aakash keeps on insisting you have no time for menial pleasure from your work. So what brings you here?”
While her mouth spoke, her eyes were busy taking in the sight of him. It had been more than two months since she had last seen him. He had left for London a few days after their last encounter and come back. According to Aakash, there was no one that was as powerful and dynamic as his brother when it came to closing deals. He could charm the birds off the trees and be as cold as ice when need be. Khushi had no idea he had returned and her heart beat a little faster with him in vicinity as she remembered their last eye contact and how it had stirred a strange attraction towards this man. Those eyes had given her many sleepless nights and she had been irritated beyond limit with his face constantly in her thoughts. It had taken a lot of effort to erase him from her mind. Fine, she had not been able to do so completely but she had been making progress! And now he was back here again. Drat!
Today he was dressed in a formal suit. The white colour of his shirt gave him an ultra-sexy look, making the colour of his eyes shine out. A shiver passed through her body as she met his eyes. Truthfully speaking, if she had the choice she’d rather stare at him than at any painting, he was quite handsome, pity about the manners though- the thought sneaked in from somewhere making Khushi blush.He looked at her in a manner she found disturbing to say the least.
Arnav looked at Khushi with an eyebrow raised at her blush, that polite smile one was supposed to give absent from his face. He scowled as he thought about the cruel jokes fate sometimes played on humans. It had taken him quite a while to get over his impulse to fly back to India once he’d left after their last meeting. Her face had haunted his dreams. Thinking about her had made him ache for many days until he had gotten sick of taking cold showers. He was sure he was in lust with her, he’d never felt it so strongly before. Something pulled him towards Khushi and he sure as hell didn’t wish to give into it without knowing what it was that attracted him so badly to her. He didn’t want to! He knew women and their tendencies to cling. Life had taught him a lesson long time ago.
He had thrown himself into work and in the evenings, dated beautiful women but nothing had captured his attention for more than a few hours. He had not been able to sleep with any of the willing dates he had taken out in the last two months, simply because Khushi’s face kept appearing in front of his eyes. He had snapped at everyone until one day his Anjali di had lost patience, asked him to get his act together and sort out whatever it was that was troubling him. Finally, he had applied immense amount of control on his libido and shut his feelings out. He had firmly decided to not stay at his uncle’s place on his Delhi visit so that he could stay away from Khushi Kumari Gupta. And now, despite all his precautions, they’d met again. Karma was a bitch for sure!
Khushi was wearing a blue dress that showed off her legs to perfection. She had long and slender legs that were encased in heels. She looked adorably young for her years, innocent and fresh. Of course that was the illusion she must want to create, he thought to himself.
“A man needs to relax now and then. I’m here with a friend who’s – she must be here somewhere.” Arnav dismissed his partner with a flick of his hand, encompassing the gallery.
Poor woman, thought Khushi, she may have come with the mighty Arnav but was nowhere to be seen. While she felt sorry for his partner a voice cooed his name, “Oh Arnav darling, you’ve got to see this! How I wish I could buy it!”
Khushi and Arnav both looked in the direction of the voice. A woman stood in killing high heels next to the painting that to Khushi’s mind was an abstract done by a child. She was dressed in a black dress that had no back and reached her knees. It was the kind of dress that curved to the entire length of her body, leaving nothing to imagination. She held out a hand towards Arnav and she cooed again, “Come here darling please. You have to see this! I insist!”
“Close your mouth Khushi Kumari Gupta. You don’t want to catch flies.” Arnav’s barely suppressed mirth came to the fore with his mocking drawl that made Khushi’s mouth close snap shut as she glared at him. “I had no idea you were into piranhas.”
His charming grin disarmed her glare as he said, “She’s good, isn’t she for an arm candy? What do you say? Should I praise that painting and make her happy?”
Khushi could barely keep her dislike for the woman to herself. She was not sure what it was about the woman that made her dislike her on the spot but she didn’t want Arnav to know it. Keeping dislike out of her voice, she tried to act nonchalant as she replied, “By all means, if you think that will sweeten her. To my simple mind, it looks like a dog pooped in there and a kid took to it with a stick.”
“Careful or you may make me laugh and ruin my repute in the society Khushi. I do need to come to Delhi from time to time you know.” He murmured, his eyes glinting with wicked laughter. “Personally I share your view then again, who am I to judge?”
Khushi felt a blush rise to her cheeks. She was being impertinent and as usual, had spoken her mind without thinking first. He was almost a stranger after all and may take offense! She said, “Forgive me, you’re right. I’m no one to judge. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my friends. Enjoy your partner’s company Mr Raizada.”
“You’re here with more than one person?” Arnav’s raised his eyebrow again in question. She was starting to get annoyed with that eyebrow. She decided to act cool. Smiling, she said, “Yes, I’m here with more than one person; a single companion would bore me to death you see. If you’ll excuse me- good bye.”
She raised her head high in the air and walked off as Arnav nodded his bye and watch her go with his eyes narrowed, a tick in his jaw. All the way to her group, Khushi could feel the hair on the back of her neck tingling. She could feel him watching. She reached her group that was standing a little apart from others and smiled at them. “Are you guys done? Ich bin hungrig.”
One of the guys from the group laughed, “Du bist immer hungrig Khushi! Wir wissen das und sind nicht überraschend. (You’re always hungry Khushi. We know this and are not surprised.) There’s not a time when you’re not peckish sweetheart.”
Khushi gave him a wide smile, “Du hast das recht. (You have it right) But I can wait for a while. Tell me which painting did you like the best of all?”
While they discussed the paintings, Khushi turned back to where she had left Arnav. He had gone to the woman who had ooh-ed and aah-ed over that silly painting and was talking to her. He had his arm around her waist. She looked like a cat that had just been fed cream. Though the image made Khushi smile, seeing his arm around her waist made her feel uneasy. It made her want to go there and kick his nuts for keeping his arm around that woman’s waist. She dismissed the feeling by turning her back on him and walked off with her friends.
“So where are we planning to go? Do you guys wish to go back to Max Mueller Bhavan or somewhere else?” Khushi asked the group.
A girl from the group called Diksha chirped up, “Oh, how about we go to Delhi Haat? It would be fun.”
Khushi liked Diksha a lot. She was one of those happy-go-lucky girls who always had something nice to say about everyone. Her father was the owner of one of the most prestigious companies in India but she was unlike others, modest about her background.
Khushi smiled at Diksha, “Excellent idea Diksha. What say you guys?”
Sharad; the one who had spoken to Khushi earlier groaned, “No you guys, please not Delhi Haat. The moment we reach there, you girls will vanish into shops and we’ll hate to sit there waiting for you guys like fools. NO. Das passt bei mir nicht!
The girls made faces but agreed. Diksha shrugged her shoulders and took it philosophically. Khushi asked Sharad, “So where do you guys suggest we go?”
“How about going to the Club Bar? It’s not very far away from here.”
The idea seemed to get the general consensus and so they proceeded towards it. The Club Bar was a part of the Oberoi group of hotels. When they reached there, they were greeted with friendliness and courtesy. Most of them were known to the staff since they frequented the club quite often. Khushi smiled at one of the servers who blushed and got flustered, making the other girls giggle.
“Khushi, the guy is probably overwhelmed by your sunny smile. “ One of the girls said, giggling.
Khushi grinned and shrugged her shoulders, “And then they say we’re not polite. What’s a girl to do?”
Pratik, another guy who was a part of her group had his eyes on Khushi since long. He never left a chance to flirt with her, if he could. Now he slithered close to her chair and said, “He may not be able to absorb your brilliant smile Khushi but I always love it when you smile at me. You don’t do that often though.”
Khushi met his eyes and her smiled turned chilly, “Flirting with me doesn’t become you well Pratik since it leaves me absolutely cold. If you want a smile that is meant for you, you need to stop being so desperate. Ask the right girl and she may give you the right smile.”
Pratik’s smile wavered as he looked into Khushi’s cold eyes. He gave her a wan smile and turned towards the girl on the other side.
“Khushi, you’re too mean sometimes.” said Caroline who sat next to her and had heard the exchange.
“I don’t want him to get ideas, Caro. I don’t like him and putting him down gently doesn’t seem to work. This is the only way I can get through to him.” Khushi whispered in Caroline’s ears. As she started to move away, her eyes strayed across the table and clashed with Arnav’s amber ones. He met her eyes, raised a silent toast to her and then turned towards the woman he was with to smile and talk to her. She was the same woman who had been with him at the art gallery.
Khushi looked away and then back again. Something inside her rebelled at the idea of seeing him with another woman. The woman put her hands on Arnav’s hands that lay on the table and licked her lips.
“Ugh! Disgusting display of seduction.” Khushi muttered to herself, “What does she think he is- a dessert dish? Her hands almost look like claws to me. What does he even see in her, for heaven’s sake!”
“Whom are you talking about Khushi?” Caroline looked at Khushi, puzzled.
Khushi shook her head and said nothing. She couldn’t believe the rage that was developing inside her simply by looking at the pair of them sitting a few tables away from her. She decided to distract herself. She smiled at Sharad who sat across the table and said, “So Sharad, what are your plans for this evening? Partying hard as usual with your playboy lot?”
Sharad grinned at her and winked, “You know me well darling. If only you’d decide to accompany me to a restaurant one day, I’d leave all the partying aside.”
Khushi laughed genuinely this time. She was well aware that Sharad had no more interest in her than she had in him. He was in love with a nice girl and the families were about to fix his engagement to her. It was an old joke between them when she teased him about his playboy status and he flirted shamelessly but harmlessly with her.
“One of these days, I will say yes to you Sharad dahling, you’re going to go running off into the hills.” Khushi grinned at him. He leaned across the table and caught her hand that was lying on the table and said, “Try me sweetheart, I won’t run off. I promise!”
Khushi giggled and was about to slap his hand away when her gaze involuntarily skittered towards where Arnav was sitting. To her shock, she saw that he was glaring at her, his eyes spitting fire. His eyes moved and fixed where Sharad’s hand held Khushi’s on the table and his mouth tightened. He was not paying any attention to what the woman beside him was saying and she seemed to be put out by it. Thus Khushi found herself to be a prisoner of two pairs of hostile eyes. Aranv looked at her hand on the table again and clenched his fist.
Khushi’s eyes widened at this gesture from Arnav. What was his problem? She raised her eyes to him as if posing that question. He looked away uncomfortable and didn’t look back at her again. Confused Khushi averted her eyes from his table and looked at Sharad. “Er- well I -“ she had completely lost the track of the conversation.
Then she closed her eyes, mentally pulling herself away from what had just happened and remembered what she had been talking about with Sharad. “Well Sharad, we’ll just see when that happens.”
They didn’t stay long afterwards. While leaving Khushi looked at where Arnav was sitting, she found that he was totally focused on his companion. She was not sure why that upset her but it did. She left with the rest of the party.
It was much later that she had realized that it had been the first stirrings of jealousy that had upset her that evening. Something seemed to squeeze her heart tight at the memory of that evening. It was no use thinking about Arnav she thought had fallen in love with her and had been murderously jealous that day simply because Sharad had placed his hand over hers. He had later confessed that at the time he wanted to come to her table and punch Sharad for touching her.
The same Arnav who had declared such protective feelings towards her had not believed her and accused her of loose character when Shyam had almost raped her. Where had his protective instinct gone off then? He may have learnt the truth now and apologized but she could barely get over the hurt she had gone through. Khushi controlled a sob at the thought and berated herself for thinking of him. What good did it do thinking about him. He had apologized, and decided he wanted to take up from where they’d left off. When she’d rejected his plea and his advances, he had not even bothered to talk to her again and walked off. Her heart had wanted him to come back and beg for her forgiveness; she had wanted him to woo her but he had simply left. Since the day of Mallika’s engagement, he had not even called her once and apologized again or shown any signs of remorse.
A part of her mind mocked Khushi, “Why would he apologize again Khushi? Have you forgotten the humongous ego he carries around with him? He would have decided you were not worth the trouble and left off to pursue greener pastures. After all, he never loved you.”
Tears formed in her eyes and she wiped them away angrily. No, she would not cry, not for that unfeeling man. She should think of the task on hand for tomorrow. She was supposed to leave the house by seven for the camp. With grim determination, she left the garden and went up into her room.