Khushi sat waiting for Shyam at her favourite cafe that evening, while her mind still turned over Payal’s words. Why did Payal think that she, Khushi Gupta could ever fall in love with an arrogant arse like ASR?
She shook her head vehemently in denial, almost spilling coffee from the mug in her hand. The idea itself was mental. She could never fall for a man who had not even an ounce of humility in him. He was – he was-
“An espresso please, double shot. ” The deep dark voice raised the hair at the back of her neck. Trying to reject the voice in her head that said it knew who the voice belonged to, her eyes opened wide with shock as Arnav sat down in the chair next to her and grinned wolfishly.
“I had not thought of you as a coffee drinker, Khushi Gupta. You sound like you would drink gallons of tea, not coffee. “
Her eyes drank in his grinning face- he looked so devastatingly handsome when he smiled!- and then his words registered. More to the point, his presence by her side registered as she came out of her daze. Her doe eyes sparkled with annoyance.
Arnav saw the moment Khushi’s expression changed and his eyes lit up at the expectation of fireworks. He loved it when she looked ready to spit fire, the passion of her feelings plain on her face. He didn’t have long to wait.
Khushi’s chest swelled with quiet indignation. His eyes rested briefly on the heaving chest and then moved to her eyes. They were now furious at his blatant display of interest.
“How dare you! “Khushi spoke with her mouth barely moving. “What the hell are you doing here Mr Rothwell ? “
“I have been called here, by your – who is he anyway? Is he your associate or your friend?”
Khushi refused to calm down. With gritted teeth, she asked, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but you had better leave. I have a meeting and I am not going to waste my energy talking to you. “
“Of course. ” Arnav was brisk, his eyes sharp. He accepted his cup of espresso with a polite smile at the waitress, that seemed to turn her into a silly mush. Fluttering her eyelashes, she asked him if he wanted any sugar.
“He is diabetic. No sugar, thank you.” Khushi spat dismissal at the waitress, who went away with a scowl on her face. Looking straight back at ASR, Khushi said, “Did you hear what I said Mr Rothwell Raizada? Leave.”
“You’re pretty adorable when you’re all fire like this. “Arnav observed amusedly, and then huskily added, “Most of the times, I can’t wait to burn with you.”
Khushi had no reply for such a statement. She sipped her coffee and pointedly looked at her watch. Arnav finished his mouthful of espresso and wiped his mouth with a serviette, calming informing her, “Don’t be mad at me. I didn’t come here myself. I was called by your photographer associate, Shyam. “
Her jaw dropping, Khushi retorted, “Shyam? My Shyam called you?”
“Your Shyam? ” Arnav’s eyes caught fire at her reference to Shyam as hers. He was annoyed.
His entire day had been a pain, so why should he be surprised if evening was the finale of all that he found irksome. He had decided to work from home this morning. His morning had begun with Anjali teasing La at the breakfast table. By noon, La had become decidedly panicky, coming to him with the request that he make things clear to his family. She was terrified they would marry her to him tomorrow if they had their way. Highly tickled by her imagination, Arnav had assured her nothing of the kind would happen. She ought to take the teasing in her stride and be indifferent. After all, she wanted the pretence of being his girlfriend to save her pride. But La had been unable to handle things. Post lunch, she had excused herself with the excuse of a prior meeting with an old friend and got out of the house.
Arnav had breathed a sigh of relief as Anjali had turned her attention to her own wedding matters, and he had finally been able to focus on his work. Things had just settled down, when Shyam called. He had been polite and straight to the point.
“Hi Alex, I would like to meet you this evening. Is it possible?” Shyam had asked politely.
Arnav had observed, “A bit sudden, isn’t it? “
Shyam had been just as adamant, “I’ll agree, it is a bit sudden but imperative. I would appreciate it if you could come to the India Cafe this evening. Khushi will also be there.”
Arnav had tensed at her name, and in a split second made his decision as an unsavoury thought had entered his head. His entire being had rebelled at the idea. As he remembered the thought that had prompted him to come here without a second’s hesitation, his annoyance at his own behaviour grew. He looked at Khushi and suddenly he said, “I might as well tell you since I know you will not tattle tale. I think it is time I got married.”
Khushi looked at him, going pale at his words. ASR planning to get married? To Whom? Or was he simply saying that to annoy her? Well, she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. With mighty effort, she ignored his declaration and ploughed on, “Why has he called you here?” Then muttered to herself, ” Is he planning to warn you off in front of me or something? “
Arnav’s mind, that had seconds ago been amusing itself at Khushi’s instant reaction and efforts at non-reaction to his statement, was now outraged at this muttered suggestion. How could anyone warn him off Khushi? Khushi was — and he stopped the thought in his head. He liked annoying her, flirting with her. He had already admitted to wanting her badly. Khushi was his — The point was, she was not for Shyam.
Khushi, unaware of his internal debate continued muttering to herself, “I must talk to Shyam. He has been a bit odd lately, but I simply thought it was due to his preoccupation with–.”
“Still talk to yourself, do you? Old habits die hard. ” an amused Arnav drawled lazily, stretching in the chair. “I can’t wait to hear what milk toast man has to say to me.”
Khushi choked on her coffee “Milk toast man? You are calling Shyam a milk toast man?”
ASR shrugged his shoulders, “What else would I call a man who has been playing with fire recently, but is not able to take the heat?”
“What fire? What heat? What the hell are you blabbering on about ASR?” Khushi snapped, forgetting her intention to stay calm.
She drew back as Arnav leaned forward. Suddenly his eyes were drawn to the door and he took a sharp breath. Khushi saw the change in his face, saw the hardness enter into his eyes and looked at the door too.
Shyam and La had entered the cafe; Shyam with a grim look on his face and La with averting eyes. His gaze zeroed in on Arnav and Khushi and his jaw tightened. They all greeted each other politely. La sat between Khushi and Shyam, her gaze averted from Arnav. Khushi observed this and wondered.
Finally Arnav spoke, “So Jha, what is it you wanted to talk about?”
Shyam put down his coffee and looked at Khushi accusingly, saying “I just wanted to make sure we are all on the same page. You have not trusted me enough as a friend Khushi, or you would have confided your secret in me. ” He sighed deeply, unhappily. Before Khushi could ask him, he raised his hand, “I am not finished yet Khushi. Please don’t interrupt. “
Shyam looked at Arnav and a determination entered his eyes. He said, “La tells me your family spoke to her today about her marrying you. Now is the time Rothwell. You must tell them.”
Khushi’s eyes strayed to Arnav, shock evident in them. Without looking at her, Arnav kept his gaze on Shyam, “Tell them what, Jha?”
At this point, La interrupted both men, looking at Arnav with pleading eyes. His eyes hardened and she averted hers, saying “I am sorry, Alex. I wouldn’t have told Shyam about any of it, had he not told me about his intention to marry her.”
ASR being who he was, didn’t even blink at her declaration of innocence. He simply nodded at her and then looked back at Shyam.
A frustrated exhale, and then Shyam said, “You must tell your family the truth Rothwell. Tell them that La is not your girlfriend, but mine. You must tell them about your engagement to Khushi. “
“Khushi, are you listening to a word or am I talking to a zombie ?” Shyam said angrily, exasperated by her thoroughly.
They were in the national gallery of modern art at India Gate since the last two hours, where Shyam was working on his personal company’s assignment. His company had hired a model to pose alongside his exhibition photos for promotion. He had insisted on Khushi going along with him, so that they could discuss and expand the ideas he was working on. Having decided the last night about saying no to his proposal, Khushi thought it might be a good idea to accompany him. She wanted to break it to him gently. After spending the first hour though, she decided to wait for the evening, when they’d be more relaxed while out for dinner.
Startled at his tone, Khushi looked up at him from her ipad and said coldly, “What is wrong with you Shyam? Why are you so annoyed? I was checking out venues that can use your photos post exhibition, for God’s sake! You will need to advertise your work if you wish to succeed.”
“I know I need to publicize, thank you. You don’t have to be so patronising all the time Khushi.” Shyam retorted back and moved away from her, to click some photos of the model posing in front of the painting. “I don’t know why I thought bringing you with me would help in any way.”
Astonished, Khushi looked up at him. She had never heard Shyam use such tones before. She wondered what he meant by that cryptic statement and then observed him closely. He was taking photos, but he acted strange while doing it. He was very brusque with the model, so that she was nearly in tears. She was hiding it well but her eyes glinted with it.
“For heaven’s sake, La! Have you forgotten all the rules of modelling? Don’t you even know how you must pose?” Shyam barked loudly and angrily at the model again as he clicked another picture of her.
Loath to see him in such a mood, Khushi tried to calm him. She intervened by standing next to him, put a hand on his shoulder and spoke softly in his ear, ” Okay, would you stop being nasty and tell me how she must stand and I’ll help her out? Chill out dude. You’re scaring the poor girl.”
Shyam turned angry eyes on Khushi, “Help her then, if you can. I think she’s absolutely incompetent. I don’t know how I thought I’d work with her anyhow!” He tunnelled his hands through his hair, his silver bracelet glinting. The model; La her name was, seemed to be transfixed by it, a stricken expression on her face. Perhaps she had heard what Shyam had said about her, thought Khushi.
Time to take action!” she muttered to herself and came forward, smiling at the model. “Hi La, Shyam’s very particular about his poses. I’ll help you with the poses since some of them are awkward I’m sure. Is that okay?”
La jerked her attention to Khushi from Shyam’s bracelet and nodded frantically, relief evident in her eyes.
Khushi smiled widely at her and Shyam and said, “Right then. Let’s get on with it.”
Slowly the tension in the air fizzled out and La became comfortable enough to pose effortlessly. Khushi liked La immediately after having spoken to her for a while, when helping her pose. She was of Payal’s age, and was modelling for pocket change. Not that she liked it much, La confided in Khushi. According to her, her co-workers were all stuck up and didn’t talk much, apart from bitching about each other, talking about diets and rich boyfriends. She didn’t much like it, and were it not for the fact that she loved posing and seeing her face popping out of the billboards and magazines, she wouldn’t associate herself with the modelling world at all.
It took them a little more than an hour, but they were finally done. Khushi breathed a sigh of relief, seeing both Shyam and Laavanya- or La, as she liked to call herself, relaxed. She smiled at both of them and said, “So if it’s all done now, how about we share a cup of coffee before going separate ways?”
Nothing could have shocked her more when Shyam and La at once spoke up together, “No!” She looked at both of them. La was the first one to speak, though her cheeks were tinged with pink, and Khushi could see she was very uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry Khushi, I can’t. I must leave immediately. I have someone waiting for me.”
“You were not supposed to be free for another hour. So who’d be waiting for you when you’re working?”
Khushi scowled at Shyam as he said this. He sounded so rude! Poor La turned a bright pink, but ignored Shyam. She looked at Khushi desperately and said, “I really do have someone waiting. Don’t mind please. We can meet up some other time maybe? I’ll give you my phone number.”
“I have your phone number. I’ll give it to her. You can go to meet whoever is waiting for you.” Shyam spoke again, his voice so harsh it made Khushi flinch. La simply didn’t respond and at Khushi’s understanding nod, strode off. Shyam looked after her, his face set tight. Khushi rounded on him,
“What in the world is the matter with you Shyam? Did you have to sound so rude to La? You almost made her cry! And your tone! What business is it of yours if she has someone waiting? Anyone would think you were–” She stopped, her eyes going wide with understanding. In a whisper, she said, “You were jealous!”
“What nonsense! Stop imagining things Khushi. I am just not in the mood for this now! Let us go! ” Shyam said gruffly, but he avoided her eyes.
Khushi stood rooted to the spot, going over the entire morning in her head. He was definitely jealous! So who was La to Shyam?
“What nonsense!” With a jerk, Khushi moved out of his grasp at his words, completely rattled. “I’d thank you to keep your hands and your opinion to yourself.”
“But if I remember correctly, you liked my hands on you.” Said Arnav with dead calm, and watched as pink seeped into her cheeks. She whispered, “How dare you! That — that was — I was distraught and I didn’t realise–“
“Bullshit!” Said Arnav, heating up a little. “Why not be a little honest with yourself and say that you liked it? A little foreplay in the corner might not have been what you wanted, but you did want me. I stopped only because I realised we were at work and I was your employer.”
“I am not standing here and listening to this. If you want to get in that car standing there at the car parking, and go to the hotel, do so, or go to hell.” Shaking with outraged indignation and a little shame because she knew what he said was right, Khushi turned away to leave. Her next breath turned into a gasp, as he caught hold of her hand from behind and pulled her towards him.
“Wha—let me go this instant!” Khushi said, her breath coming in short, fast gasps.
Not hearing her, he pulled her with him into the nearest telephone booth and closed the door.
“Open the door this instant, you…. I don’t want to talk to you at all! Let me go.” Khushi demanded, refusing to struggle like a hysterical heroine in the movie.
Arnav pulled her closer and tighter to him, if that was possible. He pulled her ponytail a bit so that her eyes came up to meet his defiantly. His palm could feel the pulse beating frantically in the nape of her neck; he could feel her nipples peaking against his chest. Her heart was beating like a drum roll, just like his was, at this nearness. There was no doubt in his mind. She was as attracted to him, as he was to her and fighting it with admirable spirit too! Had he been right all these months, thinking that she had disappeared because she had felt the strong pull of attraction to him? He was starting to think he was right.
Feeling a kick of satisfaction in his gut, he growled, “You still want me Khushi Gupta, and God help me, but I still want you—very much. “ He bent a little lower, his breath falling on her face, his soft words caressing her face, “Why is it that you always lie about what you feel? Why do you always hide under the façade of coolness or anger? Is this why you disappeared? “
“I don’t want to talk about this! Why can’t you leave it alone?” Khushi closed her eyes and said despairingly.
“Can you leave it alone? Tell me you didn’t think about me all these months. “Arnav whispered, his lips almost touching hers, feeling her breaths.
Khushi could hardly think; much less speak, for the fear of touching his mouth with hers, and igniting herself in the fiercely burning fire of want. She tried to move her head to one side, but his tight grip on the nape of her neck prevented her.
“Khushi..” Arnav groaned against her mouth, and in the next second touched his lips to her. Desire that was just a flame, turned into a raging inferno for both of them as their mouths touched. Khushi kissed him with abandon, opening her mouth for the invasion of his lips and tongue. They kissed like they’d never want to be apart again. Khushi held on to him like he was her rock of Gibraltar, her hands holding his head, her fingers making scissoring patterns in his hair. Arnav pecked at her lips, her eyes, her cheeks, her jaw and she did likewise. His hands moved from the nape of her neck to her back, her waist and then to her hips, where he held on to her as he kissed her. He moved down to her nape, whispering, “I knew you want me. “
Khushi stiffened in his arms as she heard his whisper, horrified at what she was doing. Had she let go of her senses completely? How could she have let him kiss her, and furthermore, kiss him back with such ardent abandon?
She pushed him away from her, breathing as if she’d run a marathon, and he faltered a step as he lost his grip on her. Khushi looked at him, her eyes glittering pools of brown. Angry tears at her own failure to curb her desire weren’t far away. She made to move out of the telephone booth by pushing him away, but he simply pulled her back to him, her back brushing his chest. He moved the ponytail away and kissed the nape of her neck, breathing hard. Khushi ‘s breath hitched in her throat at the touch of his lips there, and her voice wavered when she spoke, “ You let me go this instant. I never want this to happen again!!”
Arnav bit the lobe of her ear lightly and then licked it to soothe it. Khushi felt herself twitching between her legs, her insides clenching with need, as he spoke, his voice gruff with desire, “Never say never, Khushi. You can’t ignore this attraction between us, any more than I can.”
“Can I not?” Khushi said through gritted teeth, freeing herself finally.
She quickly opened the door and stepped out of the telephone booth. Arnav stepped out from the telephone booth too and walked towards her. Now that she was free of his enveloping presence, she could think clearly. She moved away from him and towards the parking lot, with Arnav following her. Anger at herself for giving in to her carnal lust, and at him for making her feel so vulnerable made her spat, “I can do what I want Mr. Raizada. You don’t have any hold over me, do you hear?”
His thundered face was the testament of how enraged he felt at her words. But he let her words flow past him silently, and walked to the car park, where the car was standing.
The driver of the car got out and watched the scene unfolding in front of his eyes with avid fascination, but wisely kept his distance. He could smell romance in the air, despite all the arguing that was going on. He was being eaten up with curiosity about this girl who dared to be defiant and give Arnav baba hell. No young women he had seen come in contact with him had behaved with anything less than simpering adoration, and he had known Arnav baba since he was a baby. No one got so much attention or emotion. He gathered his thoughts and quickly opened the back door, as Arnav walked briskly up to the car.
Arnav walked briskly up to the car, knowing that Khushi had walked a bit and now stood outside the car park. He turned around and looked back at her. She was staring at him, her expression confused at his behaviour. Their eyes met and he could feel a huge wave of some unknown emotion rise within him. He felt an overwhelming need to see a different emotion in her eyes, anything but this confusion that reflected his own feelings. He said, “In a way, I am still your employer you know. I am paying for my sister’s wedding. So you see Khushi, I still have a hold over you. See you later.”
The utter horror and shock etched on her face at his announcement must have satisfied him perhaps, because the next moment, he sat in the car and was driven away. He kept on replaying the look he had left Khushi with in his mind until he reached his room, freshened up, had his dinner and stood outside the room balcony, eyeing the city bright with lights, with a glass of neat scotch whiskey in his hand. A smirk came on to his face that turned into a huge grin. He chuckled loudly and then the chuckle turned into a laugh. Still laughing, he lay down on the bed and under the covers. Sighing deeply as if relieved in some manner, he closed his eyes and fell asleep with the same look, his mind occupied with Khushi.
“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. Two years older to her twenty-eight, he was also a well known photographer, and had worked with her on some of her company assignments, which is how they’d met. His passion was landscape photography, but his bread earner was his fashion photography skills. He was going to have his landscape photo exhibition at the National Art Gallery, which was indeed an honour reserved for few. Soon he would be making his name well known for his passion.
Khushi and Shyam had met at for a work assignment initially, which had later turned to friendship and gradually into a relationship. What Khushi liked the most about Shyam 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”. A kiss and affectionate hugs was all they had ever shared between them.
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, four years younger to Khushi, and 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 closed the bedroom door and turned around to face Khushi, who was already sitting on the bed, her legs folded, ready to talk. Her eyes were troubled, her face pale. Constant thoughts plaguing her mind could be seen very clearly in her eyes. As he stood by the door for another minute, Khushi burst out,
“Arnav ji, do come here. I – must know. We must talk.”
Slowly Arnav approached Khushi and sat down next to her on the bed. Taking one of her hands in his own, he smiled into her eyes and said softly, “Let me get ready for bed and you do the same. We’ve got the whole night to talk. “
Khushi made a face, “No we don’t. You have to wake up early and then go to work too. I don’t want you going to work all tired.”
Arnav kissed the palm of Khushi’s hand, making her quiver as he said, “How very wifely of you, my darling.” Humour glinted wickedly from his eyes.
Khushi smiled widely, “That’s because I am your wife Mr. Raizada. But I want to know—“
Arnav laughed softly and put a finger on her lips, “Quiet wife. One of your duties is also to listen to your husband—sometimes at least!”
Khushi giggled and Arnav smirked, then said, “Ab jaao. Get ready for bed my love. Once we’re cosy, I’ll tell you all you want to know.”
And so it happened that 10 minutes later, when they were both under the covers, cuddling that Khushi raised the question, “Arnavji, is it true that Aparna lied to me? That these 5 years of unhappy living and keeping our sons away from your fatherly love was all simply because I’d been foolish enough to believe her? “
Arnav sighed and kissed her hair, “You are a good person Khushi. It is not your fault that you believed in her lies, not your fault that we suffered so much these last years. You did it thinking of a little boy and his happiness. That doesn’t make you a bad person or foolish; on the contrary. “
Khushi stayed quiet, but took refuge in Arnav’s arms by snuggling into him and hugging him even tighter than before. Arnav squeezed her back and continued, “Yes, she lied to you- to everyone who knew her actually at the time we did. “
“I always wondered why she kept on harping on about how she didn’t want anything from life anymore, how her life was content. A person who is content doesn’t keep on repeating it every second, you know. The day you told me about the DNA test and Vishal being born out of wedlock, and accused me of being a neglectful father, I knew a deeper game was at play. To feel the waters, I spoke to Aparna about it. Of course, initially she pretended to deny it all and then gently cried out to me in not so many words that Vishal was my son, and she and he were my responsibility.”
Khushi looked astonished, “What? Why didn’t you tell me about it?”
Arnav looked sheepish for a second and then grimaced, “I think I should have. It might have helped you realize what was happening, and you’d have never left me. But in my arrogance, I thought I’d solve it all by myself and then you’d never have a chance of any doubts in future.
Anyway, when you left, I became absolutely distraught. I tried finding you everywhere obviously, despite all your instructions. But it looked like you’d completely vanished. Everyone was worried. Babuji never said a word to me, but I could feel his accusations every time he looked at me. Everyone looked at me for answers Khushi, and I have nothing to give.”
At the amount of pain in his voice, Khushi grasped his hand and kissed it. She took it between both of hers and held on to him, trying desperately to absorb some of that pain of his, to lessen it. Regret washed her being in waves. She should have realized how everyone else might feel. She shouldn’t have left like that.
A pool of tears formed in her eyes as she mumbled, “I’m sorry.. so sorry Arnavji. I should’ve thought it through. I hurt you and everyone I love so badly.” She raised her tear filled eyes to his, beseeching him to understand, “But believe me, I thought I was doing the right thing! I thought, I was coming in between the happiness that Vishal and you deserved.”
Arnav leaned in and kissed her forehead. Sighing heavily, he placed his chin above her head, as she folded more closely into his arms.
“I know you Khushi. I know you thought you were doing the right thing. I don’t blame you anymore; no one does. Yes, I was distraught. I was angry when you left. But after the whole thing was sorted out, I knew exactly why you’d done it.”
Khushi raised herself up on her hands and kissed Arnav on his lips. “I love you so much. And I caused you pain.” A frown marred her brows, “But what was going on? If I was in the wrong and Aparna was doing something that was—I don’t understand Arnavji.”
Arnav kissed her back hard and smirked, “You’re not as brilliant as you think you are Khushi Singh Raizada.”
At her indignant look, he said, “Alright. I won’t tease you for now, because you do need to know it. We talk about it this time, finish the tale and never speak of it again.”
At a cautious nod from Khushi, he continued,
“ Aparna underestimated my love for you. A week after you’d left, she tried to come on to me. The first few days, she sympathized with me, cursed you for leaving me in such a condition, for leaving “her” in this compromising position where she’d have to “fill a gap you left behind”. That’s what she thought it was, and she said it.
Then one evening, everyone had gone out. I came back from work, as usual and I saw her wearing your sari and cooking in the kitchen, like you do. When I went into my bedroom, she came in after a bit. Said she’d cooked my favourite food to cheer me up. I knew a seduction game was about to roll. I set the record straight that evening, and told her there was not going to be any grand reconciliation. Even if Vishal was my son, Khushi was my wife. I didn’t want any other. She left the room that evening, but not without uttering vile words for me, that I will not repeat in front of you.
She could see her plan failing, and me slipping out of her hands. For the next two weeks, she tried to befriend me. By this time, I had already had investigators working on her case, and the results had just started coming in the evening she had tried to seduce me.
Aparna had spent the last three years at the order of the court in correctional institution. She had already been sentenced once for about six months, for embezzlement, fraud and slander. Another interesting bit also came out. There was a restraining order against her. Do you remember the architect, Arun Varma from the parties we’d attended together ? – he had filed it. Apparently, Aparna had tried to pass herself on as his girlfriend, and created differences between him and his real girlfriend. When he exposed her, she became aggressive towards his girlfriend. In the end, the restraining order had been put in place. “
Khushi listened to this, her mouth open in shock. “She was mentally sick?”
Arnav shook his head in regret, “Sadly not. Women like her are never mentally sick. It was just a way of getting out of tight spots she had gotten herself into every time. She was cunning to the nth degree.”
“How did you expose her then? And where was Vishal all this time that she was facing all these charges and in the mental institution?” Khushi asked, her frown pronounced.
Arnav took a deep breath and said, “Vishal was where he had been happy, even if alone. He was in the orphanage, where I officially adopted him from after the whole fiasco had been sorted out.”
At her dazed expression, Arnav nodded to himself, “Yes, Khushi I know. For you this all seems incredible, but the thing is, not everyone is as decent as you are, my love. Aparna had planned very carefully. She had adopted Vishal and trained him as befitting my son a few months before she accidentally bumped into us. The DNA reports that you’d seen after you’d sent the sample were fake, because the samples had been switched by her.
I could’ve let go of the whole thing, even let her leave after all the destruction she’d caused, had it not been for the fact that she’d included an innocent child into her game plan and used him, almost killed him to achieve her goal- me. “
Khushi looked up alarmed, her hackles rising, “What do you mean Arnavji? “
Taking a deep breath, Arnav said, “She tried to poison Vishal to get family sympathy.”
Ignoring Khushi’s horrified look, Arnav continued, “Vishal went through a tough time, with you leaving us, and he felt he was to blame to some extent. I had tried to cheer him up at times, but he had started getting morose. Then one evening, when I came home, I heard Aparna tried to force feed a medicine. He kept on saying it smelled vile, but she wouldn’t listen. When I tried to intervene, she told me that Vishal was a sensitive child, and according to the doctor, he needed a sedative to help him get out of low moods. What a load of rubbish! When I asked her to show me the pill she wanted to feed him, she snapped at me and told me to mind my own business.
Vishal had started crying by then, refusing point blank to take the medicine. I could see Aparna starting to become aggressive in her stance. To cool off the atmosphere, I told her, I’d give Vishal the medicine prescribed by her doctor. For my sins, I helped her feed him poison.
Khushi, that pill had been coated with rat poison. Aparna left him with me, saying she had to go out for a meeting with a prospective client. In an hour, Vishal had started vomiting and was showing severe signs of poison. Without any delay, I took him to the hospital. He was there for two days, since the poison had affected his body severely.
Investigation proved that the pill had been coated with rat poison. Aparna came to the hospital teary-eyed and accused me of trying to kill her son. What she didn’t realize was, I had already gathered all the evidence to prove her guilt. A short court battle ensued, where needless to say, I came out the winner. She was sentenced for five years, with attempt to murder. “
Khushi’s eyes were wide with shock, her voice locked in her throat as she heard the entire story unwrapping. It was almost like a TV drama, except it was real, especially since it happened with herself and her family. Had it not been for her own foolishness, none of this could have happened – she cursed herself for having being so gullible.
Silence reigned for minutes, until she let out a long breath and in a tearful voice said, “Oh my God. All this, because she wanted you, and I was foolish enough to believe all that I heard and saw.”
Arnav cupped her face between his hands and said, “No Khushi. She never wanted me. She wanted the wealth and fame that came with Raizada name. I had nothing to do with it. And you, you my love, were foolish- yes. But it was not because you were stupid. It was because you believe people are good. And that is one of the things I adore about you.”
Khushi sniffed, her nose turning red as she snuggled against Arnav, her voice breaking, “Poor Vishal. What he went through!’
Arnav soothed her, his hand moving gently in her hair, as he said, “He knows he would never have to be through anything like that ever again. He knows he is loved. I adopted him after all this, and last year we got his leg sorted out. For him, the mother that has been, the mother that is, is you Khushi. You know that. “
“Yes.” Said Khushi, glad to have the past sorted out. She looked up and smiled, the calmness in her husband’s eyes soothing her, “ I am so glad you didn’t give up on me.”
“NEVER.” Arnav vowed as he held the most precious gem of his life in his arms. “I did not know what love was before I met you, and I will never be able to love you any less for who you are. You and our children are my biggest wealth, and I am only thankful to God that you came back to me with our sons. “
Khushi smiled with her eyes at him, curving her hands around his neck, as she reached his lips and whispered, “We are not two worlds apart anymore, darling husband. If I am your wealth, I am ready to be spent– on you, by you.”
“In that case…. ” Arnav said huskily, as their passion took over.
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.
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.
Khushi woke up in the morning and stretched herself with a smile on her face. The smile disappeared though the moment she realized where she was. She was in the drawing room, sleeping on the sofa. It took only a second for previous evening’s events to come back to her and she sat stiff on the sofa, wondering what would happen the next. What would she do if – heaven forbid- she found out that Arnav was serious about keeping the kids with him? Why was he doing this? What-
“I see you’re back to deep thinking. I missed you in bed.” The mocking drawl brought Khushi up short from her musings. Her heart gave a lurch as she saw Arnav standing on the stairs, his hair ruffled. Above his trousers, he was bare chested and looking as sexy as a handsome man could in the morning.
“Where can a man find spare towel in this house?” He asked coming to stand close to the sofa. Khushi scrambled on to her feet. Belatedly she realized that was a mistake, since now Arnav was very close to her, standing a mere inches away. Stammer took hold of her tongue as she said, “Y-y-you can find it in the cupboard below the stairs. I must rush, I need to wake the kids and get them ready for school.”
“School?” Arnav raised puzzled eyes from her body to her face.
Khushi’s face flamed at his blatant eye wandering but she kept her wits about her this time. She said, “They both are in play school right now. They will be in a proper primary school the next year.”
Saying so, she almost ran away from him, scared and at the same time annoyed with herself for being scared. Truth be told, she wasn’t scared of him, never had been much, but she was most certainly scared of her own reactions to him. Last evening had proved to her already how weak she was where Arnav was concerned. She couldn’t let him roughshod over her- not at any cost! Her life was set here, with her sons and he was not a part of it. A sadness welled in her at this thought but she fought it away with grim determination. Yes, he had no part in their lives. He had a son and long lost love with him and they were his life, not she and her sons.
She kept on chanting this thought in her mind, deliberately hurting herself inside as she got her sons ready. No body looking at her getting her sons ready for school could say that she was not cheerful.
She packed the lunch boxes into their bags and filled their water bottles, looking disheveled. Although the day was only beginning, she felt as if she’d been up for hours and yet, she had been neat an hour back, when she’d bathed and dressed. But that’s what happens when you run behind kids, thought she with a smile. As Aayush tried to ruffle his hair, Khushi automatically reached down and smoothed his hair back into position. He groaned and glared at her but didn’t say anything and Khushi smiled wide. “Okay now, you’re sure you’ve got everything needed for today?”
“Sure Mommy!” Cried both
“How sure?” Khushi raised her eyebrows and asked naughtily. This was their daily routine and they all loved it.
“Two thousand times sure.” They replied back, grinning.
Khushi gave them both a smacking kiss on their cheeks and said, “Alright, time to scram. Go, go, go!”
Both the kids rushed out as Savita hollered from outside. It was her turn today to take her daughter and Khushi’s sons to playschool. But something weird happened then, that Khushi had not expected.
They turned back, and looked around. Khushi looked at them, puzzled. And then, she felt Arnav behind her. She turned to look at him, her breath nearly catching in her throat. Arnav had just taken a shower and had a towel round his waist. Save that, he was all man in his glory; water clinging at places on his body and his hair. A wave of desire rose inside Khushi but she stemmed it immediately, knowing if Arnav saw it, he’d take his chance.
Arnav came to stand beside her. In an instant, the kids came to him. Aarush was a little slow but Ayush had no such doubts. He flung himself in Arnav’s arms as Arnav bent to hold him. A hug and a kiss was given to Ayush and then, not wanting to be left out, Aarush also came forward to be hugged and kissed. Arnav ruffled their hair and said, “Get going dudes. See you later!”
Aarush looked at him intently, “You’ll be here? You won’t go away?”
Aranv nodded his head and said, “Yes, I’ll be here.”
“Good. I want to show you my books when I come back.” Said Aarush and then they both went off.
To say that Khushi was astounded was an understatement. Her sons were so much like him, and them together like this—it made Khushi very emotional; emotional and scared. She had almost cried when Arnav had hugged Ayush and Aarush with love. No one could doubt his love for them or their acceptance of him; and yet they’d only met yesterday evening. She knew Aarush was still hesitant but Ayush – he had accepted his father in his life completely. Oh, to be a child and accept everyone unconditionally!
It scared Khushi; this feeling. Feeling wary of his next move, she moved a little away from him. As it was, she could smell the spicy notes of his aftershave; she knew he preferred The One from D&G. She remembered the time when he’d put it on and smile his shark smile. She loved kissing him after he’d put it on; loving the scent of it on him and then rubbing on to her. They’d always ended up in bed. She gulped and tried to not stare but couldn’t help herself.
“I’m your husband Khushi. It is your right to look at my body and covet every inch of it, but when you do that, I can’t resist you- you know that.”Arnav’s husky reminder put Khushi back on alert, with her nose and cheeks going red.
She turned around so that her back faced his front and said, “Go, get dressed. I need to open shop. You can go now, back to where you came from.”
In a millisecond, she was caught by her shoulders and turned around, to face an angry Arnav.
“I told you yesterday night what I wanted and what I meant to do. In case you had any doubts, let me repeat Khushi Singh Raizada. I’m your husband-legally wedded husband and it is my legal right to see to it that my wife and kids are with me.”
“Wh-what are you talking about? Surely you can’t be serious Arnav!” Khushi tried to get free of his hold, “Chhodiye humain!”
“Not happening.” He said and pulled her closer to him. When Khushi pushed him, he let her go for a second. In the next instant, Khushi was upside down, like a sack of potatoes on his shoulder. She pummeled his back with blows, saying, “Put me down this instant Arnav Singh Raizada.. or else!”
“OR else?” Arnav’s chuckle reverberated through her backside as he held her firmly and walked upstairs.
With each step, Khushi’s breathing got faster. What was he doing? Where was he taking her? Surely not— !!! HE wouldn’t dare! She fumed and growled, “You put me down now! This is not your house, samjhe aap!”
Arnav had almost reached Khushi’s room when she spoke. He stopped immediately and put her down. Her words had cut him but he didn’t let it show. She tried to turn away from him but he caught her again by the waist and pulled her close to him. There was not a single part of his body that wasn’t demanding release at this time, yet his heart was hurting. His amber eyes were icy now with anger as he looked into her eyes and saw her flinching, her body in his arms, trembling.
He said, “Khushi Singh Raizada, yes- this is not my house but it isn’t yours either. Your house is with me- in New Delhi. Your home is Shanti Van, not this two floored building. I will make sure you learn some obedience before we go back.” Khushi opened her mouth to refute but he merely said, “Make no mistake my wife, this time around I’m beside you and you will come home with me, even if I have to resort to other measures to do so.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” asked a horrified Khushi. Her mind seemed to have seized up to understand the implications of his statement. Surely he didn’t mean what she thought he meant?
“You heard me well Khushi Singh Raizada. I’m not going to divorce you. What’s more, I want you where I can see you, with my sons.” Arnav walked towards her, his stride determined.
Khushi was almost hysterical. She thought, this is the same old cat and mouse game; he moves ahead and I behave like a scared mouse, moving back. Indeed, she had already started taking a step back with each of his advancing steps. She looked up and saw mockery in his eyes.
“When will you stop stepping back the moment I step forward? I’m not going to eat you Khushi… at least not yet. I do remember how much you like it when I – eat you.” That last bit came out in a husky voice, desire clouding his eyes as if he remembered the taste of her.
Khushi’s eyes widened at this passionate onslaught of words on her senses. She gasped as her back felt the wall against her. With nowhere else to go, she stood rooted to the spot, her eyes following Arnav as he moved towards her. Soon he was close, very close. She gasped as he lifted his hand and trailed his finger across her lips, his eyes intense with passion.
“S-stop.” Khushi whispered, but her throat closed up as he bent and she felt his breath on her face.
“Make me.” Arnav whispered back before taking her lips with his own. Khushi’s moan died on her lips as his mouth captured hers, demanding passion. Unable to control her bodily reactions, Khushi responded back, giving kiss for a kiss.
Arnav deepened the kiss and groaned her name. It had been so long since he had tasted her mouth and yet it felt as if no time had passed at all. Their bodies moulded to each other like they had never parted. Somewhere in Arnav’s mind this truth rang a bell. It was true after all- not a single moment had gone by in all these years when he hadn’t missed her, when he hadn’t wanted her. He silently vowed to never let her go away from him again. Whatever her reasons, once she told him about it, he would find a solution to their problems and forever be with her and their sons.
Slowly he lifted his lips from hers, gazing at her closed eyes. She looked so much at peace in his arms; he saw smugly. She would be, he thought- that’s where she belongs. She opened her eyes and he smiled at her.
Khushi opened her eyes slowly, still caught in the web of passion. Arnav was the only man in this Universe who could make her forget everything and everyone. Nothing had changed between them physically at least. She still adored the way he kissed her, she wanted him to continue until they were both one once again and he filled her with is seed.
His seed- her sons!! Khushi’s eyes grew wide in dismay this time as she remembered them, too late. She looked up at Arnav, disgust for herself and her lack of control apparent in her eyes. Arnav’s smile slipped from his face, leaving it cold as he saw the revulsion on her face. He mistook it for disgust at him and yet, he couldn’t let her go.
“Let me go, please Arnav.” Khushi pleaded quietly and Arnav immediately let her go this time. His heart ached at the pain he saw in her eyes. He wanted to shout out that he had never betrayed her, had never wanted anyone else but her, but he kept quiet. Time enough for all that. Right now, his main object was to get her back with him and take her home with their children; take her where it was her right to belong.
“How could you?” Khushi asked, her heart broken. It wasn’t that she didn’t want him or his kisses. Indeed, nothing would make her more happy than to spend her life with him. But how could she forget that there were more people involved in this case than just him and her? How could she forget the other woman and her son that was Arnav’s son as well? How could HE forget that? Jealousy tore her heart apart; did he kiss that woman too the way he kissed her, with so much passion?
“It is very simple.” Arnav said, his tone amused. “I put my lips on yours and we kiss. You enjoyed it too Khushi and you’re my wife. Who else would I kiss if not you?”
“Not me. I don’t want you to ever touch me again. Go and get your lust sated by someone who enjoys your attention. As far as I remember, you had no problems forgetting that I was your wife before.” Khushi said angrily, moving away from him. Trust him to turn the knife where it hurt the most. Who else indeed?
“Khushi—“ Arnav turned her around and took her arm firmly in his grip. She struggled but he held her firm. He tipped her chin up and she met his eyes. They were cold and dark, as the night in summer, gleaming with some emotion Khushi couldn’t define.
“Just go away Arnav and leave us alone. We were much happier without you and we will be again when you leave us. Get out of my house and never come back again.” Khushi met his eyes and quailed at the look in them.
He inched closer and growled, “Get this firmly in your mind wife. I’m not letting you and my sons get away from me. And you had better get yourself used to me around.”
He let her go abruptly, moving away from her and looking interestedly around the room, “It has been a long day for me. I travelled from Lucknow for a meeting here. I need to take a shower and sleep. I’m guessing- but I think the bed room is upstairs, with a view of the garden ?”
Khushi gaped at him. Then shaking her head as if to bring sense back, she gritted her teeth, “You have no room in my house. If you want to sleep, go somewhere else. There must be a decent hotel who’ll take you in.”
Arnav turned to her, amusement gleaming in his eyes. His tone was silky as he asked, “Where else should I go and why? I am your husband and I will sleep with you.”
Saying this, he quickly moved to the stairs before Khushi could get words out of her mouth and disappeared along the corridor and rightly, into her room.
Khushi oblivious to the forthcoming upheaval in her life was enjoying the day with her sons. They had gone to the elephant park; a place which was closest to the zoo that she could find for her sons to visit in Allahabad. Of course there was big Zoo in Lucknow, where she had grown up. She so much wished to take her sons there, but that was not possible so they made to with Elephant park out here. It was sort of petting zoo where one could pet and play with rabbits and horses or climb on to the stone elephant’s tail and slide down its trunk.
It gave her heart great pleasure to see her sons laugh and cheer each other when sliding down. She sat down on a bench and watched them. How quickly had they grown up and she didn’t mean only in age. Aarush was showing signs of understanding and maturity at such a small age and Ayush didn’t take long to pick up on the vibes in the room. If Khushi was ever sad or upset, he’d know it immediately and both the kids would try to find out the reason and make her happy.
They never asked about their father after that one time about six months back when she told them, she hadn’t told their father about them. They had asked her the reason and she had to simply tell them that it was for everone’s happiness that she had not told him. Khushi knew that at the moment they were contented with her and didn’t really want a father but soon—her heart thumped faster at the glimpse of a couple of years ahead when they’d start playing sports and would definitely wish for a father to cheer them up. Khushi herself was not much of a sportsperson but both her sons showed distinct signs of liking sports. Aarush was into football while Ayush really liked basketball.
Khushi was roused from her thoughts by a loud greeting from her neighbor and her daughter who had just arrived at the park. The daughter made a beeline to play with Khushi’s sons who stopped sliding down the elephant trunk themselves and first of, helped her do it. Khushi smiled warmly at their gesture.
“It’s good to see you sitting quietly like this Khushi. Every time I see you, you’re always busy with something or the other.” Her neighbor, Sarita saw the picnic basket and grinned, “A picnic ?”
Khushi nodded happily, “It’d been so long since I took the boys out for a picnic. Thought I’d do it today. I’ve been very busy with the shop, that’s true. What with Navratre, Durga Puja time, Dussehra and then Diwali, I’ve been overloaded with orders for sweets. Tum toh jaanti he ho na, kitna kaam hota hain.”
Sarita patted her on the shoulder, “Yes dear, I know. The old lady must be so happy to see you running her shop successfully from heaven. People swear by your sweets. “ She looked at Khushi’s kids playing with her daughter and added, “Your sons behave beautifully Khushi. Sometimes I wonder how you get the time to raise them, teach them good manners and keep up with running your shop.”
“All is the grace of God I say Sarita. It is not easy to raise them but I love them to bits. I would never want my life to be any different.”
“But-“Sarita hesitated then ploughed on, “what about their father Khushi? After some time they will definitely need a father. What will you do then?”
Khushi stiffened at her words. “Why would they need a father? Hum hain na. Hum sab sambhaal lenge. I know I can do it.”
Sarita shook her head sadly, “You may say that Khushi but sons always need fathers after a certain age. You can’t do the things your sons would be able to do with their fathers. Sab kaam tum akele nahi kar sakti ho Khushi.”
“At last! Someone who agrees with me.” A drawl that broke Khushi’s skin into goose bumps came right from behind them. She shook her head as if to clear her ear and looked at Sarita, “You said something?”
Sarita was looking at a point behind Khushi. Khushi turned her back, her senses prickling but she not giving in to them. No, it was not possible! She had been careful all along. It couldn’t be.
Arnav stood behind her, a lazy smile upon his face as he looked at Sarita. Khushi heard her friend gasp in shock and surprise as she exclaimed, “You are Khushi’s husband!”
Arnav nodded his head in acquiesce and came forward. “The very same. How did you know?”
Sarita gave him a huge smile and looked back at Aarush and Ayush playing with her daughter, “Your sons look exactly like you; that’s how I knew.”
Arnav gave her a tight smile, “You say so? I hope their sensibilities also resemble mine. If they are like Khushi when it comes to life; I’ll have a lot of work ahead. ”
Sarita looked at Khushi and her brow furrowed in concern. “Khushi, are you okay?”
Khushi looked at Sarita, shock and hysteria evident in her eyes. She wanted to scream and laugh hysterically at her while shouting, “Do I look okay to you?” but she sat rigid, her body still in shock. It was a good thing she was sitting or else she’d have fainted dead away. As it was, she sat still, her heart thundering in her ears, oblivious to her surroundings. Arnav was standing next to her and though her body tried to tell her it was really him a part of her mind refused to believe that he could even be present here. She closed her eyes and muttered, “If I don’t look at it, it will go away.”
“What will?” Sarita’s bewildered tone reached her ears but she didn’t open her eyes.
“I will. She thinks I’m an image projection of her night mare and if she doesn’t look at me, I will disappear. Still very much into childish antics I see Khushi.”
Arnav’s scorn made Khushi’s eyes open. She quailed at the anger directed towards her. He sounded ready to murder her. For the first time since his voice had penetrated her senses, Khushi looked up at him and immediately wish she hadn’t. He looked exactly as she remembered him although there was a hardness about him that reminded her of the first time they’d ever met. He had grown leaner than before too, a part of her noticed. Maybe he was working too hard, maybe he had gotten back to his old ways. Dressed as usual in a suit, he looked the epitome of handsomeness and somehow it smote her heart to think of him as not hers any more. His eyes-her heart nearly gave up at the look on his face. She looked away. She could not meet his eyes that held a variety of emotions; uppermost being anger and hurt.
Her attention was diverted before Arnav could say anything as their sons came running forward. “Mommy!!!”
Khushi heard Arnav’s breath hitch in his throat as he looked at his sons. Aarush and Ayush looked at him with curious eyes and then Ayush, being the shy one hid himself in Khushi’s dupatta. Aarush stood still as he looked at the man standing before them and then slowly moved close to Khushi and held her hand. This movement was not lost on Arnav who was visibly moved.
Sarita looked from the children to Arnav and then at Khushi. She knew when to opt out in case of danger, yet her friendship with Khushi was strong, she moved closer to Khushi and whispered, “Should I stay?”
Khushi could barely speak. She simply shook her head. No point in dragging Sarita into the mess that was hers and hers alone. She braved up to smile at Sarita and say, “You go ahead home. I-I must sort this out. Don’t worry, I’ll be okay.”
Arnav’s mouth tightened as he heard her last statement. Yeah sure, she’d be okay from him-until they got away from prying eyes and overhearing ears of their children. To think that he had two sons and Khushi had dared to leave him without ever telling him—he controlled his rage with some difficulty and nodded his good bye at Savita.
Once Sarita was gone, Khushi looked at him and said, “It’s best we’re off too. Soon it will be dinner time for Aarush and Ayush.”
“Aarush and Aayush.” Arnav replayed the names in his mind and almost sat down on the bench. She had named them as per the mutual decision that had been taken a long time ago, while they were only just thinking about how life would be like as parents. How many dreams had he dreamed with her? A big family; at least four children- two girls and two boys if possible; with girls being elder to boys. He and Khushi mostly fought about who’d come first, girl or boy and here he stood; a winner not just once but twice over with two sons.
Arnav looked at his sons and then at Khushi, a determined glint in his eyes, “By all means, guide to your house and we’ll talk there.”
“Mommy—“ Aarush began but Khushi cut him short by holding his hand tightly and saying, “Let’s get home Aarush and I’ll –I’ll try to explain who-“
“I know who he is. He’s our dad, isn’t he?” Ayush piped up before Khushi could say anything more and heard Arnav’s sharp intake of breath. She looked at him and saw him gazing at Ayush, an expression on his face that Khushi knew well. He was going through a wave of emotions and he was trying to hide it, unsuccessfully.
She took a deep breath and with another hand, held Ayush’s hand, still looking at Arnav and with a calm she didn’t feel she said, “Yes. Yes Ayush he is your dad.”