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?”