Chapter-13 (Flashback in Italics)
A satisfied smile adorned Mrs. Gupta’s face when she put the phone down. Khushi, who had just come back from the camp, saw this smile and wondered what could have happened to put such a smile on her grandma’s face. Surely it must be some good news?
“What’s this smile for? What’s the news grandma?” Asked Khushi, plopping herself on the sofa besides her grandmother.
“Ah, my darling! I am so happy today. It seems like the little risk I had taken for my biggest investment is about to be paid off.” Mrs Gupta put her hand on Khushi’s head and caressed her hair as Khushi laid her head in her grandma’s lap. A beaming smile lit her face too at her grandmother’s happiness.
“Really? That’s cool grandma! So are we going to party?” Khushi asked with raised eyebrows and saucy smile on her face.
“Not before I see the fruits of my plans.”, said her grandmother and tweaked her ear. “Ouch! That hurt grandma. How could you hurt me like that?”
“Growing up is a difficult process my child, I know that. But one day you have to. The day you grow up, I’ll tell you all my secrets.” Mrs. Gupta said. Before Khushi could ask anything more about this ambiguous statement, Mrs. Gupta changed the topic, “So how was your camp this year? How were the kids this time around? Anything special happened?”
Images of Arnav kissing her the morning of the camp, comforting and playing with the kids, as well as the bird watching incident crowded Khushi’s mind. As a result, her face outpoured multiple expressions of confusion, anger and love. She shook her head as if trying to disperse all these images from her head and looked at her grandmother, forcing a smile upon her face. After all, it would be expected of her that she be tired but happy.
“Everything went well, grandma. I really liked spending my time out there with those children. The feeling never changes although it does leave me tired.”
“Of course, taking care of children is a tough task but you do it well, don’t you my dear?” Mrs. Gupta cajoled her daughter for more information, “But did you see anything interesting? There must’ve been new volunteers with your group. Did you meet anyone nice?”
“Hah! Like I would, come on! You know how picky I am. “Khushi had to force herself to laugh that one off and feign a yawn. “Lord, I’m so tired I could sleep right here. Do you mind if I skip dinner tonight and go off to sleep grandma? I truly don’t wish to stay awake any longer than I have to.”
“Go to your room child, Lalita will bring something to you on a tray. You can sleep until late tomorrow morning since me and Payal are not going to be around.” At the question in Khushi’s eyes, Mrs. Gupta clarified, “We’re going shopping since Payal plans to leave soon. I must make sure to buy gifts for all to send. They’re all such nice people.”
“Yes, they are.” Khushi affirmed and then added, “Enjoy yourselves tomorrow then. I’m off to sleep. Good night grandma.”
Khushi hugged Mrs. Gupta and went upstairs to her room. She was not in the least sleepy but she wanted to be by herself. Donning on her cream night dress, she went and sat by the window ledge, watching the dark hills far away. She gazed at the clear sky, twinkling with stars. If only she could follow their example! She so much wished to clear her mind of all the confusion and hurt, to retain only good memories of Arnav. She knew that he would not quit, he would not rest until he achieved his goal-her forgiveness and her trust. But could she really trust him? Had he not broken it so brutally, she might have had it in her heart to forgive him easily. But he hadn’t even given her a chance to clear her side. How could she forgive him for that? How could she ever forget his venomous words that had poisoned her soul? Where could she find the antidote for such venom?
Deep down, she knew that Arnav was, is and will be the only man she’d ever love. Her belief had been put very nicely in one of her favourite Indian films, “Kuch Kuch Hota hain” where SRK said, “Hum sirf ek baar jeete hain, ek he baar marte hain aur pyaar- pyaar bhi sirf ek baar he hota hain.” She knew it held true in her case. She’d never be able to replace Arnav with anyone. His image, her love for him was seared in her soul. But it was not possible for her to show it to him anymore. She may love him to bits but she would never let him know. She had been very badly hurt the last time.
“What if he proves himself to you Khushi? What if he truly regrets his mis-judgement and wishes to make up to you? What if he said those horrible things only in anger and didn’t mean them?” Khushi asked herself, “Would be so cruel as to not even give him a chance to prove his love, to earn back your trust? What then would be the difference between him and you?”
A knock on the door broke her monologue. Lalita entered with a tray that held a bowl of minestrone soup and bread. This was her favourite food when she was tired. Khushi smiled at Lalita and thanked her. When Lalita left the room, the smile disappeared and a thoughtful expression took its place back on her face. She absently started eating her food, with one leg dangling from the window ledge as she thought of Arnav. Should she give him a second chance? Should she believe his claim of loving her or should she believe what she’d been told before? She knew very well that he wanted her, oh yes he did. He always had.
Khushi had agreed to help Aakash and his father Mr. Mahinder Singh Raizada at work. Senior Mr. Raizada’s secretary had been off sick and the temp agency had not been able to send any satisfactory replacement. Since Khushi was not doing anything in particular, she had volunteered to help them. Soon of course her potential was obvious and she had been asked to work on contract basis for an important project. Apparently the marketing team needed a big boost due to the last two screw ups that had lost them good deals. Khushi was to work in co-ordination with the marketing department and handle the entire project as an outside consultant. She was very happy as the project had given her something challenging to work on.
At the time she had taken up the project, she of course had no idea that her path was about to be crossed with Arnav again. He was the London counterpart who would be handling the deal in the U.K. Was the only fact she had been aware of. She had had no idea at the time that this project would one day pave the path to bring them closer to each other.
A week after Khushi had joined the project; she had been sitting in the waiting area of Mr. Raizada’s office, waiting to talk to him when she felt his presence a moment before she heard his mocking drawl,
“And what’s a social butterfly like yourself doing in an office?”
She looked up to meet his eyes only to silently gasp. She had almost forgotten the intensity of those eyes. They gave her a thorough look over that incensed her awareness of him, bringing a sparkle of rage to her eyes. However her voice showed none of her rage as she calmly retorted,
“I thought the norm of greeting in corporate offices was “hello” or “good morning”. “
“Good morning Ms. Gupta. What brings you here?” He sounded so meek that Khushi looked at him suspiciously. Arnav Singh Raizada and meek? Huhh.. What a joke! She may have met him twice but she knew his type well. Such men were arrogance personified.
“What- no come back? “ He raised an eyebrow with the drawl she was slowly coming to hate.
“I am thinking if you are as stupid as you sound although that would hardly stand up to the image everyone has of you.” At his look of disbelief at her words, Khushi felt a quiet sense of glee. He looked as if he couldn’t believe he was being called stupid. While he still looked at her, she continued, “Obviously, since I am waiting here in the reception lounge of senior Mr. Raizada, I’d have thought it would be obvious to a clever man like you what I might be doing here. Looks can be so deceptive.. oh dear, you look angry.” She could barely contain the smile that wanted to break free on her face.
“I am not sure what you could be doing here waiting for Mahinder uncle. What business have you here with him? Maybe I can help?” He spoke up, his amber eyes ready to catch fire but his voice ever so cold.
Khushi shook her head in negation, “Nothing that I may need your help with Mr. Raizada. My business is solely with er- Mahinder uncle.”
A slight cough had them both turning around at the secretary sitting at the reception lounge. She was a young thing, looking at them both with a troubled expression on her face, as if scared to intervene. Arnav looked at her and gave her a dazzling smile that probably floored the poor thing. She purred like a cat with a smile on her face that had Khushi gritting her teeth, “Welcome back Mr. Raizada. We were awaiting your return.”
“Thank you Edith. How are you? Is my uncle free?” He asked her.
Any moment now Khushi was sure this Edith chick will probably climb over the desk and wrap herself around his feet. Silly twit! As if he could read her thoughts, Arnav turned to her and gave her a shark grin that almost had Khushi jumping from her seat to grab his neck and throttle him. How dare he flirt so openly with-
Almost shocked at her thoughts, Khushi quickly looked away from him and at Edith, “ Ms. George please inform Mr. Raizada that I’ll be with Aakash if he wishes to speak to me.”
“Sure Ms. Gupta.” Edith replied back abently, her gaze stuck on Arnav, “Mr Raizada, let me call Mr. Raizada sir and find out if he’s free. If you’d wait here a moment please?”
“On second thoughts Edith, would you ask him to buzz me when he’s free? I’ll be in my office. Thanks.” It was the ruthless businessman who was doing the talking now. Gone was the smile of a charmer and it was replaced with a dismissal. Khushi muttered under her breath, “Laad Governer kahin ka, he thinks everyone is inferior to him. Arrogant ass.” as she walked off from the area. Not that she went far.
“Not so fast! I wish to know what it was that you said under your breath just now.”
A hand came to clamp itself around her waist and she was dragged into a corner at the turn of the lounge. Khushi gasped with outrage, and tried to free herself. “How dare you! Let me go Raizada, I’m not one of your empty headed bit of fluff!”
“As soon as you tell me what it was your said before, I’ll let you go.” Arnav said while he held her. Truth be told, he liked her moulded to him like this. She fit his hold perfectly; his hand on her tiny waist making her his prisoner, her back rubbing against his chest as she struggled, igniting a fire that refused to be bogged down.
Khushi could feel herself burning up at the touch of his hand on her waist. In fact her whole body seemed to be burning up while he held her tight from behind, with his chest rubbing her back so often. “Go to hell Raizada. I don’t wish to talk to you.”
“If you keep on moving, there won’t be any possibility of us talking at all. In fact, let us not talk; I like you much better like this if only you’d stay quiet.” Arnav said huskily, pulling her even closer by putting his other arm around her waist and touching his lips to the side of her neck.
Khushi trembled violently in his arms as she felt his lips come in contact with the side of her neck. She may not have any experience when it came to men since she never had any serious boyfriends but she was not entirely naïve. She could feel the sexual tension that had both of them in its grasp and made her want to submit. She found it difficult to breathe when Arnav turned her to face him, with his arms still around her; her entire body shaking with an unknown emotion. She had to get out of his arms or she’d suffer from instant combustion.
Her voice trembled when she said while looking down, “Let me go Raizada. I don’t like being manhandled like this. Let me go and I’ll tell you what it was that I said.”
Arnav looked down at her lips and then at her eyes. He caught her chin in his hand and made her look up to him. What he saw there nearly toppled him. He could read the same desire in her eyes that he felt, and he could even feel her wanting to control this madness. As Khushi met his eyes and saw them watching her lips, she felt her throat tighten, her lips drying. As if she couldn’t help herself, the tip of her tongue came out and wet her lips. He gulped visibly as he followed the unconscious gesture of provocation. He wanted to catch that tongue of hers in his mouth, he wanted to desperately touch his lips to hers, wet them with his tongue. In fact he wanted nothing more at this time than to devour her slowly and steadily.
Arnav was not sure what was happening to him but he was sure he didn’t want to let her go. He’d never felt this immense tug of desire before. He’d been around women since his teenage years and knew what it was to be in lust, but this was something completely different. He felt aroused beyond his wildest expectations. And he felt this for this girl – the girl he wasn’t even sure he liked! He could feel her trembling; what made her tremble- was it the fear that she felt or was she feeling the same that he was?
Man, this was getting a little out of hand! A part of his brain rang warning bells and screamed to let her go; she was dangerous while a part of him wanted to glue her to his body so close that they’d become one. Alarmed at such emotions being aroused in him, Arnav immediately let her go.
She moved away as quickly as possible from him as soon as he removed his arms from around her. She still couldn’t look at him. Gathering her courage in her hands, she did the only thing she thought was sensible. She walked as fast as her legs would carry her. As she went out of sight, she looked back once, met his eyes and then turned around the corner. Arnav watched her disappearing from his sight with a brooding expression on his face.
Khushi jerked back to her senses and jumped away from the window as if burned. Her whole body was shaking from the memory of that first close physical encounter. She groaned loudly at her body’s state of arousal. Damn the man! She could do without this feeling for the moment when everything in her life seemed confusing to her.
She gave herself a mental kick as she climbed into the bed. She was about to switch off the bedside lamp when the cell phone rang. Khushi glanced at the bedside clock. It was almost past midnight. Who would ring her at this time of the night? She glanced at the phone and her heart started galloping as she saw the name on her screen. Arnav Singh Raizada. Khushi turned away from the phone, ignoring it once- twice. The third time it rang, she picked it up annoyed with him and herself, only to hear him say huskily,
“Missing me yet?”
Once inside the house, Khushi immediately went in search of her grandmother and Payal. She was shaking from the encounter. Oh how could she have- why did she have to feel this pull towards that hateful man! She will never forgive him. He could say sorry till he was blue in the face and she’d not relent! NEVER!
She found Payal, her grandmother and Mallika all sitting together. They looked up as she went in and Mallika exclaimed first, “Where the hell did you go off to? Everyone wanted to meet you and congratulate you but you just have to go off in your own world! Where the hell have you been and why are you panting?”
Khushi put a hand on her head as dizziness was close by. All three women stood up immediately from their respective places, exclaiming in concern. Mrs Gupta had of coure, already guessed what had happened and knew that sooner or later this stage would have arrived. She’d have preferred later but the youth today was so impatient! Ah these young lovers!
Khushi could feel darkness enveloping her. Payal swore softly under her breath and held her tight. She made her sit down while Mallika ran to get her a glass of water. When she came back, Khushi was still lying on the sofa with her eyes closed. Baffled, Mallika asked Payal, “What’s wrong with her? She was fine all this time and now.. what has happened to her Payal di?”
Payal made Mallika sit down who looked like she’d burst into tears. “It’s nothing. You know how Khushi is, she’d run around and then fall down exhausted. That’s all. Maybe we should just call it a day and take her home. After all, we have to be back here tomorrow for your engagement ceremony.”
Mallika looked somewhat comforted by Payal’s words but Khushi felt like someone was pushing her deeper into the quagmire of hurt. She opened her eyes and exclaimed, “I want to go home now Jiji. Take me home now.” she looked at Mallika and composed her features desperately, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, okay? Come home.”
Mallika hugged her once and let her go. Mrs. Gupta clucked like mother hen as Payal helped Khushi into the car. Once home Khushi couldn’t wait to go into her room. Mrs. Gupta asked her if she wanted to eat something but Khushi declined. She just wanted to rest and be alone. Payal looked at her worriedly as he climbed up the stairs to go into her room.
“I hope Arnavji knows what he is doing. How could he have just come out like that grandma? He should’ve done it when we were present.”
Mrs Gupta sat down in her favourite chair and picked up her knitting. “No Payal. It is for the best that he met her alone. They need to do this by themselves. Young love needs some privacy. Khushi is very private when it comes to her emotions, my dear. She may not be as mature and sensible yet as you are when it comes to feelings and expressing those feelings but she definitely would feel humiliated if Arnav would meet her in front of us and try to explain or ask for her forgiveness.”
Payal sighed and looked up at Khushi’s room. The door was closed and all was quiet. “Maybe you’re right grandma. Khushi does keep to herself when it comes to her feelings. I just hope she’s alright.”
“Leave her alone and she will be. She’s nothing if not strong, my granddaughter.” Mrs Gupta announced, her hands busy knitting but her mind working toward a plan. No one need know yet how she could help them but help them she would.
Khushi fell on her bed after she’d taken off her evening finery and had a shower. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t remove the feel of Arnav’s hands on her shoulders, her hands, her face, her waist. He was so much a part of her that every time she touched herself in those areas, she could feel his touch. She had cried in the shower and called him names, trying in vain to scrub herself where he’d touch, to remove the feel of his hands but she couldn’t.
How was she going to live the rest of her life is just one meeting with him put her right on the edge of insanity? If such a time came again and she accepted his plea would he leave his judgement on the side and stand by her, supporting her? No, she didn’t think that would be how Arnav Singh Raizada would behave. He would probably call her names again and she would be humiliated again, he would break her heart again if she gave him the chance.
Tears welled up in her eyes again and she angrily wiped them away. Did he even – had she been so wrong when she’d fallen for him? Had she mistaken the lust in his eyes as love? She got up from the bed and went to sit down on the indoor swing by the window and held her head in her hands. She had to be strong; she had to learn to be strong. She couldn’t give in no matter how many times he asked for forgiveness. He didn’t trust her and that, in her book was the basis enough to break all contact with him.
Restlessness seemed to be her companion for tonight. Khushi got up and added a shawl to her attire of silk pyjamas in baby blue before getting out of the house and going towards Sophie’s kennel. It was summer and the air was cooler than normal but Khushi loved the weather in Nainital. She whistled to call Sophie who came racing to be with her mistress. Khushi bent down on one knee and rubbed her ears, “Yes, I know, I know. I didn’t see you today but you know how it was today. Today was for Mallika. Want to go walking with me girl?”
At Sophie’s enthusiastic bark, Khushi smiled and started walking. Sophie ran rings around her, woofing, finding a stick now and then and bringing it for Khushi to throw. It was fun to play with her and after a while, Khushi laughed loudly, “You always want more, don’t you darling.. greedy bitch!” Slowly, Khushi found herself relaxing and coming back to her normal self. Sophie always had a calming effect on her.
“Come then, it’s late and time to go in.” saying this, Khushi led Sophie back in the house.
The jitters that had plagued her last evening returned in full force when Khushi woke up and thought about getting ready to attend Mallika’s engagement. She couldn’t- she won’t be able to face him again, she was sure! He would be there and how could she avoid him when he’d be present in front of her eyes all the time? He would be there, he would be watching her and she- no, she couldn’t do this to herself again.
Still in bed, she called up Mallika’s private line. She knew her friend would be up by now, shouting orders at everyone around. “Hey there pretty girl. How’s things coming along?” Khushi spoke as Mallika picked up the phone.
“Argh! No, no you can’t put that vase here in my room Shruti! I am not as sophisticated as you are. I’m sure to break it. Plus orchids don’t match my mood. I need sunflowers today. Yellow in red and if you can’t do it, to hell with Mum’s instructions, I’ll get up and do it myself. What say?” Mallika spoke to someone, her voice hopeful.
Khushi knew the one who was being cajoled into removing Mrs Negi’s favourite orchids from Mallika’s room- Shruti; Mallika’s younger sister. There was a time when Shruti was the more dominant of the two sisters but tables had turned last season with Shruti failing badly at luring NK away from Mallika because she thought he wasn’t good enough for her sister and both sisters confronting each other. Shruti had finally learnt her lesson and since then on, two sisters behaved quite amicably towards each other.
“If you’d stop instructing her long enough and let the orchids be, auntyji herself would remove them.” Khushi spoke into Mallika’s ear, grinning to herself.
“Khushi, my love!” Mallika’s cheerful greeting came forth. “Are you getting ready to come here? I need your help on so many things I tell you! The engagement dress has arrived and the jewellery is still lying around in one of the cupboards. I don’t remember where. And the make-up girl is about to come in by 11 and I have to be ready by 1:30. I swear to God Khushi, I’m very nervous today! Come soon yaar.”
The grin faded from Khushi’s face. “Mallika, I don’t think I can come. Is it okay if Payal jiji comes and helps you out?”
WHAT!” Mallika’s voice crossed the octave at Khushi’s words. “What do you mean you can’t come? Can’t come right now or can’t come—Khushi don’t tease me!”
Khushi’s voice wobbled. She knew she was letting her friend down but she had to be selfish, she HAD to protect herself from Arnav. She didn’t want to break into pieces again. “Mallilka, honey I wouldn’t tease you on something as serious as this. I mean it. I can’t come to the engagement party. I’ve got to get out of town due to urgent work.”
“I’m coming over.” Mallika simply stated and hung up..bringing full fledged panic into Khushi’s room.
If Mallika came over, there’d be no way she’d let Khushi get away from the engagement. Khushi got up quickly, washed and dressed herself into jeans and a sunny yellow Tee. She had to get out of the house; grandma and Payal could handle Mallika for now. She’d explain later. Adding a sweatshirt over her T-shirt, she ran downstairs to get out but was too late. Mallika was already there, sitting on the sofa with her grandmother, her face red with exertion. She must have driven real fast if she was here in less than 15 minutes! Khushi stopped as she heard her grandmother talk,
“Mallika, there are things about Khushi that are unpredictable. She was sick yesterday and worried about something too. I didn’t think too much on it but now I believe her worries must be related to work.”
“ I don’t care naniji, I will not let her go anywhere today! How can she do this to me naniji.. it’s one of the most important days of my life and my best friend, the only one I’ve had from childhood now tells me she can’t attend my engagement! How unfair is that?” Tears weren’t far away.
Khushi made a move to go forward when she saw Mallika starting to tear up. “Mallika, let me explain. Please darling, you don’t have to upset.”
Mallika whirled around, her eyes full of tears and blazing, You Khushi Kumari Gupta are going to attend my wedding. You get that? I won’t let you go.”
Khushi sighed, “Mallika-“ she tried to explain. Mallika of course, was in no mood to listen. Hysteria was not far behind as she got up.
“You have to come to my engagement party Khushi! I’d never forgive you otherwise. You’re the one who made me and NK confess our love. “Mallika stamped her feet in annoyance and looked at her grandmother. “Naniji, I insist! Please tell her that she’s to come to my engagement party along with the rest of you guys. If she doesn’t I’m not getting engaged. Let NK wait forever!”
Khushi gasped at her friend’s declaration. She’d never thought Mallika would throw such a threat. She went forward, her hands held out, “darling, please! Don’t do this, I’m sorry but-“
“Khushi, I wish to speak to you alone. Mallika, sit here and calm down child. Khushi will attend your engagement party, I promise.” Mrs Gupta spoke quietly but firmly.
“But-“ Khushi tried but had to quiet down with a glare from her grandmother. Mrs Gupta got up and asked Khushi to come along with her. Together, they went into Mrs. Gupta’s room. “Close the door child.” Mrs. Gupta instructed. When Khushi had done that, she patted the side by her sofa. Khushi went and sat down next to her grandmother.
Mrs. Gupta began carefully, keeping her face devoid of any expression, “Khushi, I need an honest answer. Is your decision based on the fact that you ex-fiance is here to attend the engagement?”
Khushi could only gape at her grandmother, with no words coming out her mouth. As if she had spoken her assent, Mrs Gupta continued, “Do you want the world to see Khushi as a weakling? Do you want him to see you as a weakling who backs out of a social event simply because he is around? It is none of my business to know what happened between the two of you and why things stand the way they do but child, I must say I thought you were stronger. You back out of your best friend’s engagement event simply because he is around and you fear he may try talking to you?”
“Grandma- how- you- did he- “Khushi seemed unable to formulate much words, forget asking a question. Grandmother put a hand on her shoulder, “He had called on Payal to let her know that he was in town. He doesn’t you that you’re here Khushi.”
“He does now, grandmother.” Khushi whispered, her throat clogged with tears. At her grandmother’s questioning eyes, she clarified, “I saw him yesterday, he came up to talk to me, said he- he wanted me back.”
“He did? And what did you say child?” Mrs Gupta was outwardly calm as a rock but feared her granddaughter’s reaction inwardly.
“I told him it was impossible for us to get together again. He has said some things that are unforgivable grandmother, I can’t-“
Khushi couldn’t go on as tears rained down her face. Her grandmother nodded sagely and said, “well, if you can’t then you can’t. But does that mean you hide away. I have never taught you to run away from adverse times Khushi. You can’t let your own problems ruin your best friend’s engagement day, can you darling?”
Khushi remained silent, her head down, tears falling. Mrs Gupta squeezed her hand and sighed, “Well, if you really think you can’t face him at a social event where there’d be so many people around you , it’s alright. I’ll try and explain it to Mallika. She may be upset but she’ll come around eventually. Don’t worry child. You go on out to where ever it is you were going.”
Mrs Gupta made to get up after patting Khushi’s hand but Khushi held on. Mrs Gupta sat down again. Khushi put her head in Mrs Gupta’s lap. “I’m scared grandmother. I was hurt badly before. I don’t want to hurt again. I do not – he was – he said he loved me but-“
Mrs Gupta said some choice words under her breath that no woman of her age would utter and then tried to calm her granddaughter. “In life, there are many problems that may crop up and you may feel that it is the end of your life. But it never is. Every attempt that is made to pull you down should make you more determined to get up and move on. You’re a brave one my child. Don’t let anyone pull you down and despair. Get up and face the world like you’ve always done- with smile and spirit. One more thing Khushi- sometimes, people may make mistakes and judge you unfairly. But you may be called equally unfair if you don’t give them their chance of forgiveness. If he wants to talk, let him do so. Give him the chance to explain.”
Khushi looked up, “you really think so? He was cruel to me grandma. Why shouldn’t I be equally cruel to him? He didn’t even look for me when I left! Now that he has found me, he thinks he can take up from where we left off. I don’t- I can’t.”
“Tell him that then child. Tell him it is impossible for you to forgive him so easily for whatever it is that he has done. He was cruel to you, you say. Is it in your nature to be cruel to people you love?” At a startled glance from Khushi, Mrs. Gupta smiled and continued, “I know my child. I know you love him despite all that may have happened between you two. Maybe you should let him know that he will have to earn your forgiveness.”
“And trust grandma?” Khushi asked.
“And trust.” Her grandmother affirmed. “Love is just a word if there is no trust in the relationship. Face him if you have to, if he comes to talk to you and explain this to him. Let the ball fall in his court and wait for his reaction.”
“I don’t know grandma. I’m scared. I have no answers, I am confused. I don’t know if I still love him or not. I don’t know if the hurt I still feel would ever fade away. I don’t even know if I can ever forgive him.” Khushi said. Mrs Gupta laid her hand on Khushi’s head and caressed her hair, “Darling, if you’re scared, you’re not chicken. You’re brave because you are scared and you know it. The thing to do is to face it. Hmm?”
“Khushi stayed quiet for a while, resting her head on her grandmother’s lap and enjoying the love her grandmother showered over her. Then some inner resolve seemed to toughen her. She got up and hugger her grandmother. “Thank you grandmother for being there for me, for not asking me questions and just letting me be.”
“That’s what elders are here for darling. “Mrs Gupta said smiling, her relief plainly there for Khushi to see in that smile. Not that she understood the real reason behind the relief. ‘Now go on out and pacify your friend. Then get ready and we’ll head out to Negi residence. And remember, if you need me, I’m here for you. Have been and always will be. This is your house just as much as it is mine and your refuge from all evils of the world.”
“Oh grandma, I love you! Thank you so much for being there.” Khushi hugged her grandmother, tears filling her eyes again. Both grandmother and granddaughter then wiped each other’s tears and smiled. Slowly they got up and went outside where Mallika was waiting, watching the TV and biting her nails.
As she heard them approaching, she switched the TV off and came forward, “Naniji…”
Khushi quickly came forward and hugged her friend, “I’m sorry for hurting you Mallika, today of all days too! Forgive me?”
Mallika’s eyes narrowed, “ I will if it means you will come to my engagement party and stay glued to me all day long.”
“Done deal!” Khushi smiled widely, making Mallika break into sobs and hugging her. “Thank you Khushi. I was – I didn’t want to face this day without you.”
“Hey, shhh.. it’s alright. Am going to be with you. Am so sorry for putting you through all this today. Now wipe your tears before you get puffy eyes and red nose!”
Khushi quickly hugged her friend tight and further added, “ Let me throw some clothes in a bag and we’ll leave for your place. Grandmother and Payal will follow later.”
Mrs Gupta nodded and hugged Mallika too. “Be happy child. Go on now both of you. We’ll be there soon.”
As the girls went out of the house, Mrs Gupta picked up the phone. It was time for her to talk to Mr Raizada about the next step.