“YOU!” Khushi tried to free her hand. “Let me go. I thought you were in a hurry to go on your hot date.”
“Of course my date is hot, but that doesn’t mean I will leave you here to find an auto rickshaw. I am polite that way. ” Arnav replied deadpan. At her fiery look, he freed her hand, while smirking and continued, “So Khushi Gupta, will you allow me to drop you home?”
“I don’t need to be dropped anywhere, okay? You go where you have to go and leave me be. ” Khushi’s eyes spit fire as she said this. How dare he admit he had a hot date,but was only being polite while suggesting he dropped her off home! As if she was a child that needed his minding. She was not going to have any of this nonsense if they got engaged.
Appalled at where her thoughts had taken her to, she turned away from him, trying to get her brain to work sensibly. Her mind was totally a mess, if she could give even a nanosecond of consideration to that fake engagement. She found herself in the next instant, being gently turned back to face him, as Arnav mocked, “Politeness is a jewel in your crown Ms Gupta, don’t lose it. Say yes, and let me do the right thing. ”
“Alright then. If you insist, thank you. ” Khushi gave in, sighing. As he guided her towards his car, he said, “That is a sad sigh. You won’t have to bear my company for long Khushi Gupta. Just until I drop you home. ”
A sharp retort sprang to her lips, but Khushi held it back and closed her mouth shut, her eyes wide. She was completely mental if she was in angry because he was going out with someone else. She just couldn’t be jealous!
“What, no come back? Not even a tiny retort. ” Arnav mocked her.
“No. ” Khushi gave a clipped reply, and heard his breath intake.
Khushi stared straight ahead, walking on, trying to blank out the smell of him. He affected her in so many ways, more than anyone else. He riled her up, made her smile and he made her feel very desirable too. Not that she was going to give in to this attraction. That way lay destruction and heart break. She was not going to fool herself into thinking she was in love; it was plain and simple attraction.
“What are you thinking about? I can hear your brain engines whirring. ” ASR tried to start a conversation.
“Just thinking something, and I really don’t want to talk about it. ” Khushi replied softly but firmly.
Arnav was amused. She had no idea her face was an open book for him. As if he could read her thoughts, Khushi heard him say, “I go out on dates normally with women who are like myself, looking for a companion for society evenings. It doesn’t end up in bed Khushi. ”
Her face red, Khushi mumbled, “What do I care ASR. You can go out anytime you like, with who ever you like. Humain koi fark nahi padta, samjhe aap!”
“Nahi? Now that’s strange, because if you were going out on a date, I would want to beat the guy to the pulp. When I saw you with Jha the first time, I wanted to break his jaw when he smiled at you and break his hand when he caught yours. ” Pat came Arnav’s reply.
Khushi gaped at him for a second, then shook her head saying with a soft smile, “You’ve lost it Mr Rothwell Raizada. I suggest psychiatric help. ”
Arnav threw his head back and laughed. In that single second Khushi knew she would never ever feel as attracted to any other man as this one. He looked at her with a glint in his eye and simply said, “Maybe Khushi Gupta, maybe I have lost it. All your fault though. Now come along; I don’t want to be late. ”
And Khushi blushed to the roots of her hair, muttering “I knew it was going to be my fault somehow.” and meekly walked along with him to the car.
The journey to Khushi’s house was completed in silence as ASR managed through the heavy evening traffic on Delhi roads. Not that Khushi resented the silence. She felt quite comfortable sitting next to him, not talking. Only once did it happen that she looked out the window, away from him that he promptly said,” No, don’t. ” As if she understood him, she stopped looking out the window and stared straight ahead, to hear him breathe in and smile. She felt in sync with him. They reached the house, and for the first time Khushi wished her journey with him would have lasted longer. The next thought scorned her as she remembered, he was in a hurry to get ready for his date and her profile turned icy again. She heard him sigh as she opened the door and thanked him. An eyebrow up, she enquired with an abrupt, “What.”
For an answer, he leaned across the seat to where she had her head inside the window and gave her a swift kiss on her surprised lips. “See you tomorrow at Anjali’s mehandi, my fake fiancee.”
And he drove away, leaving her outraged and open mouthed at her doorstep.
Meanwhile Payal watched what was happening between Arnav Singh Raizada and Khushi and a chuckle left her as he drove away. That man was devious and Khushi was totally wrapped up in him, just like he was in her- thought Payal. She had her suspicions about him being aware of his feelings, unlike Khushi. Only time would tell though, how things pan out. Sighing, Payal turned away from the window and went ahead to open the door, only to have Khushi knocking her on the nose, lost in her own world.
“Khushi di, for God’s sake! ” At Payal’s exasperated chuckle, Khushi looked up and found her hand on Payal’s nose. Her eyes widened at what she had done and then sense of humour took over. She laughed, and she entered the house after Payal, “You should be glad I didn’t pound the door.” Taking in Payal’s appearance, she asked, “Are you going out somewhere?”
“I should have known you’d forget. ” Payal made a face and smiled, “It is quite okay though. We can go another time. ”
And Khushi winced. She could have kicked herself for her absent mindedness. She had promised Payal they would go out tonight; two sisters celebrating life together. Gathering her wits together, she said “Oh no no no. I may have forgotten about our evening plans for a second there, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going! Give me ten minutes and we’ll be on our way. Meanwhile, how about calling for a taxi? I – er may have forgotten to do it this afternoon.”
Giving Payal a sheepish grin, Khushi rushed into her room to shower and change. Twenty minutes later they left the house in the taxi, dressed smart and ready to enjoy their evening dinner at Pind Balluchi, in Connaught Place. While Payal was dressed in a lacy bodycon dress in black and a crocheted cream scarf to go with it, Khushi had opted to go for a sleeveless square neck belted jumpsuit in red with a short jacket in beige. Inwardly she had sighed in relief as she sat down beside her sister in the taxi. At least the restaurant had been booked a week in advance. She promised herself, she would enjoy the rest of the evening with her sister and not once think about Rothwell Raizada.
They paid of the taxi driver and made their way to Pind Balluchi. The doorman at the restaurant opened the door with a greeting and a smile, Khushi smiled back at him and greeted him back. A woman dressed in a saree came up to meet them with a smile.
“Good evening. May I help you?” Said the woman.
“Good evening, we have a reservation for two. In the name of -”
“Arnav Singh Raizada.”
Startled, Khushi turned around and found her eyes meeting the amber ones of Arnav Singh Raizada.
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. “
By evening however, Khushi had forgotten all about Shyam and La. She was at home, dressed in her old favourite T-Shirt and jeans, too busy arranging things over the phone, and muttering curses beneath her breath, about spoiled, rich families who couldn’t understand how any change in plans at the last minute affected organizers.
She had just received an email from Anjali Raizada. Khushi had panicked and called her up, to be told very politely but firmly of the change in her plans. She wanted her Mehandi function to take place in the Taj Mahal Hotel instead of at the Raizada Mansion. No reasons given. To top it all, she wanted Shyam to be the photographer of this entire event; none other would do.
“Truly her brother’s sister, no doubt about it with the amount of arrogance with which she gives those orders!” Khushi muttered, and then got annoyed with herself for thinking about ASR. She focused her attention to the changes that had to be made immediately.
“Khushi, the dinner has been ready for about an hour now. I’m really hungry!” Khushi turned back and looked guiltily towards her younger sister, who had been waiting patiently for more than an hour for her. Sending her an apologetic glance, she begged for five more minutes and tuned back in to the phone call.
“Hum samajhte hai aapki baat Mishra ji, par inn amir logo ke nakhre toh aap jaante he hai. Please accommodate to their needs this time around? Aage se, I will be careful you get plenty of notice.”
Khushi was trying to coax the manager of the Taj Mahal hotel to change room bookings. Nothing but the biggest conference hall would do. After some time, a smile spread across her face. She hailed for her victory by raising a fist in the air when the manager finally acceded to her request. She put down the phone with a sigh of relief. Now to make that phone call confirming the change of venue to Anjali Raizada.
“Khushi!” Payal shouted in frustration from the dining room when Khushi was speed-dialing Anjali’s number.
” Give me two minutes darling. Bas do minute! “Khushi replied back to Payal and then gasped when she heard a hiss in her ear and a terse,
“No need to shout in my ear woman, especially when you call someone else your darling.”
Arnav Singh Raizada!
“How was I to know you’d pick up Anjali ji’s phone?” Khushi demanded heatedly and then belatedly realised how that sounded, so she added, “It is none of your business who I call darling anyway. ”
“Wanna bet?”Arnav growled softly over the phone, raising goosebumps all over Khushi’s body. Resolutely, she kept her voice calm, “I don’t like gambling of any sort Mr Raizada. Now if you don’t mind, please hand the phone over to Anjali ji ”
“Why the hurry? Wish to go back to your “darling”, do you? ”
“Would you just bugger off?” Khushi finally got exasperated.
” Make me.” He sounded amused, which made Khushi madder.
“Why should I? I can simply hang up and be done with you. ” She replied with a touch of her own arrogance.
“Do you tremble in his arms too, like you do in mine every time I touch you, every time I kiss you ?”
He delivered this question, his voice going deeper and huskier, making Khushi tremble as he asked softly, “Do you remember that evening Khushi?” and continued, ” I remember that evening Khushi. Just like I remember the morning you came to receive me at the airport. I remember how I took your mouth, how it softened under mine, how your tongue danced with mine. Just thinking about it makes me want to do it again. I remember how your breasts swelled in my hand when I cupped them, how your nipples peaked — ”
“Shut up… stop talking like that!” Khushi gasped, her breath coming fast.
“If it helps, you affect me the same way Khushi. Your breathing has quickened at the thought, hasn’t it? Mine too. ” Arnav growled softly, making Khushi clench her legs together,denying the heat she felt between her legs. She wanted to deny the effect his words had on her, but she couldn’t. So she stayed quiet. After a heart beat, Arnav said softly, “Meet me for dinner tomorrow, Khushi. ”
“It would never do to show him you go weak at the knees when he talks like that, Khushi! Show some backbone!” Some part of her brain that had not turned to mush by his words yet screamed in reprimand. Her mind cleared in an instant, when she recalled the horrible embarrassment she had gone through after those few moments of insanity that evening. She hated her voice for betraying her with its huskiness, but she tried to be cool and dismissing with her words.
“Your ego is astounding Mr Raizada! Let me make something very clear -forget dinner; I don’t want to see you, or even talk to you. You’re mistaken if you think you affect me in any way. Now, either you pass the phone to Anjali ji or I shall hang up.”
“Huh..” Was all he said, and the next second, it was Anjali on the phone saying, “Haan Khushiji, have the changes been made ?”
Khushi breathed deeply to control her anger. When she spoke next, her voice was calm, “Yes, Anjaliji all the arrangements have been made with the changes requested by you. I shall get back in touch with you tomorrow to talk about the arrangement changes needed from your sides for that day. ”
“Come to the Raizada Mansion tomorrow morning Khushi ji if it’s not too much trouble, please? I will ask OP to pick you up from your house and he would also drop you back. I promise it won’t be inconvenient. ” Anjali requested earnestly over the phone.
Khushi could hardly refuse a request made so nicely. Sighing inwardly, she agreed. At least she had to thank Devi Maiyya that Laad Governor was staying at the Taj and not at the Raizada Mansion. She could heard loud voices in the background.
“Come on Anjali bitiya. We are all waiting for you. “A shrill, melodious voice spoke in the background loud enough to make Khushi wince. She knew who it was — another intimidating Raizada; Manorama Mami ji.
“Khushi ji, I shall see you bright and early tomorrow morning at 10:30. ” Anjali declared and with a hasty bye hung up. Khushi sighed loudly and said, ” I don’t have a choice, do I? “
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.
Discomfort was the word that she was looking for, she told herself. They were at the dinner table, everyone eating quietly. Unlike yesterday, there was no talking today. The children were quiet and so was Arnav. Khushi had no idea what he was thinking about, but he kept on looking at children and her, back and forth. Was he trying to come to a decision?, she wondered.
“Would you like to continue living here or would you like to come with me Delhi? It has good schools you know.”
His question startled her. As Khushi looked up, she saw that the question was not directed at her, instead it was the children he was asking this question to. They both looked at him, with Aarush looking away and Ayush opening his mouth to say something but closing it tight shut, after looking at the reaction of his brother.
“Khushi?” Arnav directed his question to her this time.
Khushi squirmed in her chair. What could she say? She needed time to think. Her children wanted him, just as much as Vishal would. She couldn’t decide whom should she stand up for. She looked at him, torment clear in her eyes this time. “I don’t know yet. We need time.”
Arnav looked at her and nodded. Then he looked down and continued eating in silence. Khushi had no idea that the question was meant as much for him as for her. Now that he had found her one and only love, and his sons, he didn’t want to let them go. To leave them behind and go back to Delhi was unthinkable for him. Yet, he knew he had to leave them alone for the moment. He had to go back to Delhi and set the wheels in motion. It was time the truth was out and in front of Khushi.
He had heard the conversation that had taken place earlier in the evening between mother and sons. His heart had been slashed with sharp swords of pain again and again as he’d seen Khushi dealing with their sons, telling them to let him go, forget him. He had loved Khushi all the more for her pain, her brave effort to keep things gentle, but he had loved his son Aarush even more at his bravery in not letting her see how much he wanted to be with his father. He was proud of his son. He swore then and there, he would make sure things fall in place soon.
They wanted to be with him as much as he wanted to be with them. He was aware that Khushi loved him just as much as he loved her. He was still in love with her. All these years apart had done nothing to douse the flame of passion or lessened the love that burned bright between them.
He could see her torment. She had left because she had thought Vishal needed a stable family. She had sacrificed her love for the sake of his family and their happiness. He closed his eyes to hide the pain, thinking of the time ,when she’d find out all these years wasted between them had been for nothing. Her sacrifice had been in vain, for he never had any family, any son. But not yet. He had to give her time- and himself too. He had to leave.
They were all eating ice cream for dessert when Arnav made his announcement.
“I’ll be leaving to go to Delhi tomorrow. I have work that must be done.”
He heard a sob and looked for its source. Ayush had tears on his cheeks and was sobbing. Aarush got up & wiped the tears off his brother’s face. He held Ayush’s hand, looking straight at Arnav.
It killed Arnav from inside to see how disheartened his sons looked. Aarush’s voice held too much bitterness for a four year old.
“We knew you wouldn’t stay with us. Mommy is right. We are better off without you because you will leave us when you don’t want us.”
“Beta Aarush-“ Khushi started, but Aarush held out his hand to stop her, “It’s okay Mommy. We love you and we’re glad we have you. We don’t want anyone else.”
Khushi’s eyes filled with tears as she saw her sons walking to their room, their ice cream uneaten. She hurt for her sons and their pain, and was sad to see her Aarush sounded far more wise beyond his years. What a burden to carry for a four year old!! And she was responsible for it, she told herself disgustedly. She should never have let Arnav meet them in the first place! They had been happier not knowing him.
“Khushi-“ Arnav tried to explain but Khushi cut him off angrily,
“If you had to leave, you could have at least waited to make the announcement until they’d finished ice cream. I had been right in thinking you shouldn’t have come into our lives. They had been happy before- they- “ she wiped her tears angrily, “And now they’re broken hearted. I should’ve stopped you from ever raising their hopes. Go back to Delhi Arnav Singh Raizada. Go back to your son and girlfriend. I never want to see you again.”
She got up from her chair and started collecting the dishes, continuing, “You can pack and leave right now if you want. I’m sure you can call your driver or call a taxi to come and take you. I don’t want to see you after this.”
“You’re over reacting as usual, Khushi Singh Raizada.” Arnav’s cold voice was like a tight slap on her face. “I didn’t say I’m leaving for ever. I am giving you time to decide what you want to do about the question I asked you before. I’m letting you decide — getting out of your way to let you make your decision without any coercion.”
Khushi still had her back to him, but he kept on addressing her back, his voice soft now. “I would gladly kill myself before I ever have to hurt my sons again after this. You wanted time? You got it. I will leave tomorrow morning and come back within a week. If you don’t want to move back to Delhi with our sons, I will make plans to live here in Allahabad.”
Khushi turned around then, her tears still running down her cheeks, her shock evident on her face. She carefully put down the plates back on the table and said, “You are leaving because of me?”
Arnav got up and came to her. He lifted her chin up and looked into her eyes, gently wiping the tears away from her cheeks and replied, “Yes Khushi, I am doing this for you. But I can’t let you or our sons get away from me ever again.”
She displaced his hand from her chin, “Why Arnav? Why do it? I know the kids are hurting right now, but they will hurt more if you leave them later. Is it not better if you leave them right now and never come back?”
“They’re my sons and you’re my wife. I can never turn my back upon you.” Arnav said, his anger rising. “You left me before without any reason and then hid my sons’ existence from me, Khushi. You should be glad I’m not forcing you to come back with me right this instant.”
“But you have one more son. And what about Aparna?” Khushi remained adamant. “I left you years back because I couldn’t digest the thought of you having lied to me. You had a past that you told me nothing about, yet you knew all about mine.”
She picked up the plates once more and went into the kitchen, Arnav following her. His anger rose as she spoke of the past. She had never asked him for any explanations. She knew nothing and yet had the nerve to pass judgment on him!!
As if encouraged by his silence, Khushi continued, “I had even thought you’d ask me for- for a d-divorce.” Her tongue slipped on the word. She hated the word as well as its meaning but it had to be said. “But you never did. Does Aparna not want to get married to you still? I am still agreeable to it you know, just as much as I was all those years back in my letter to you.”
Arnav remembered the letter he had received from her a month after her departure. That letter had nearly killed him. He had been on the verge of solving the entire mess that had been created by Aparna, but her letter had delayed things. She had left a note when she’d left, but where her note had upset him to the point of depression, her letter had angered him. How dare she ask for a divorce!! It had shattered him so much ! He had been so distracted by his sadness that he had ran his car into the tree and laid in the hospital for the next few months, struggling to stay alive. He would never let her go, and he hadn’t.
Now, he said, “I am giving you a week Khushi. I want your decision when I’m back. Tell the kids or better still I’ll leave them a letter.”
Khushi shook her head in denial at his offer. No good would come out of it, she was thinking.
She gasped as she was suddenly caught in Arnav’s arms from behind, with him growling, “Here or there, I will never let you go. Get used to the idea Khushi Singh Raizada. Tum meri thi, meri ho aur meri he rahogi, jitna main tumhara tha, hoon aur rahunga. Distance has not separated us, years haven’t and you know it.” He held her tighter, closer as he whispered, “We are Arnav and Khushi and we are meant to be together, until the day we die.”
Saying this, he let go of her abruptly and walked out of the kitchen, leaving Khushi prey to desire, love, nerves, anger, sadness and confusion.
When she woke up in the morning, Arnav was gone.
“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.
“I’m waiting for an explanation Khushi. You left me with a bread and water note and no explanations. You’d better have a good excuse- for leaving me and keeping the identity of my sons from me.”
Khushi flinched as she faced Arnav sitting on the long worn sofa in her modest house. She supposed she could be thankful that he had not raised the subject sooner- in the presence of the boys. She reflected upon the evening that had been spent together with the boys.
Arnav had behaved impeccably in front of boys so that they had started melting towards him little by little. She had also realized by the end of the evening that no matter how hard they wanted to believe they didn’t like their father, it wasn’t true. She had seen it in the way they had looked at him when they were talking amongst themselves about some car they had seen the previous day and wondered which brand and model it must have been. They normally didn’t involve Khushi or asked her questions on this particular topic since she was quite ignorant of such things. They despaired that for their mother all cars were the same- simply cars. The only distinction she granted them was–all cars were either big cars or small cars, wide cars or narrow cars.
Arnav had quietly listened to the boys talking about the car amongst themselves and stated the right model and brand apparently when they described it to him. The boys had looked at him with new found interest and smiled together. Khushi realized belatedly that the boys had already known the make and model of the car but were testing him. Apprently Arnav had passed the test and they had hesitantly but firmly started a conversation on cars. That had been the beginning of the non-stop talk about cars between Arnav Singh Raizada and his sons.
She had felt envy at the ease with which Arnav and their sons had bonded and had felt guilty for feeling so. It was only fair that she gave all of them their due. After not knowing their father for so long, the kids would be naturally curious to know more about him. As for Arnav, she could see him bewitched with her-their sons and smiling at them. For Khushi, he had no smiles.
The atmosphere had been strained between them at the dinner table until as usual, the boys had started acting up. It was always a bit of a tussle between her and boys when it came to food.
“But Mommy I don’t like this subzi! Can I not have some stuffed paranthas? Or why can’t I simply eat chocolate for dinner? “
“Ayush, chocolate is for after dinner, not for dinner and you know it very well. If you want to grow tall and look handsome, you’d have to eat healthy.” Khushi had tried explaining and then after a look at Arnav said, “Look at your father. Ask him if he likes this subzi and he’ll tell you it helped him grow tall and handsome.”
Both the kids had looked at him and Arnav had nearly choked on his food, while Khushi had almost smiled. She knew that if he was honest he could tell them that he hated French Beans too and would definitely prefer Paranthas. However to her surprise, he had meekly agreed and given his positive voice to her opinion.
After that episode, Aarush had stayed quiet throughout dinner; eating what was put in front of him and looking at Arnav as if he couldn’t stop himself. Khushi could read doubt and anger both in her son’s eyes but she knew he would be unable voice them out loud so soon. Khushi prayed Arnav would be on his way; away from them all soon and she would sit down to explain everything to the boys.
The boys had quickly followed the daily regime and gone off to sleep, but not before Ayush had caught hold of Khushi’s hand and asked her, “Is he going to stay Mommy?”
Before Khushi could have replied back, she heard her elder son say, “Why is he here Mommy? He looked angry every time you spoke to us or to him. Is he going to take you away from us?”
Khushi had held both her sons in her arms and assured them that no one and nothing could take her away from them. She could see that they weren’t fully assured but they took her reply as the final word for now. They had taken longer than usual to sleep and Khushi herself had felt exhausted after reading two bedtime stories.
And yet she sat there, opposite him while he demanded an explanation. And just like that, Khushi became angry.
“You want me to give you a reason for keeping my sons away from you? How dare you Arnav ! You should be thankful that I left you when I did and let you sort your life out. What do you care why I left you and kept my sons away from you?”
“Our sons Khushi. They are mine too.” Arnav replied, keeping a tight rein on his temper.
“And if I remember correctly, you also have one more son. I should have thought you would be happy enough to let things be. In fact I more than welcome the idea of our divorce. I’m sure your ex-girlfriend would want to become your present wife as much as I want to become your ex-wife.”
Khushi’s reply cut Arnav to the bone but he kept quiet on this front. There was a lot more to that story than Khushi knew and he didn’t really want to get into it all right now. It touched a painful cord in his heart and his anger abated for a few moments. From her perspective, he could see reasons- reasons due to which she may have decided to leave him. Khushi had always been foolhardy. She’d believe anything and do anything for the happiness of others- even if she had to sacrifice her own happiness.
While he knew where she came from, a part of him still couldn’t forgive her for the fact that she had had their sons all by herself and kept them from him. His anger returned and so did his determination.
All of his attention was on his sons; his flesh and blood. At the same time he couldn’t deny that a part of him was also very attentive towards Khushi. Right from the first moment when he’d seen her on the road, his body had leaped with want. He’d ignored that as foolishness then. But when she’d looked at his sons lovingly, he’d felt a pang of envy. He wanted her to look at him the way she used to- with want, with love.
He found to his shock that all these years had had no effect on how much he desired her. When their eyes had met on the dinner table, he had seen the reflection of his want in her eyes and burned with it. It had made him angry enough to not look at her again. Even now, he found it difficult to keep his eyes away from her fidgeting form. If he gave way to his primal instincts, Khushi would be on her back right now with him plunging deep into her.
He moved to hide the signs of arousal, annoyed with himself and with her. His gaze, when it met hers, pierced her; his voice cold, as he advanced towards her, “You may wish for anything but the fact remains that you are my wife and will remain so. I’m not divorcing you Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada. Not now, not ever.”
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.”
Chapter – 2
*EARLIER THAT DAY*
Khushi opened the old box she had kept hidden up in the attic for so many years and not looked at it. Much against her wish, tears slid down her cheeks. She brushed them away, annoyed with herself for being such an emotional person. She sat down on the stool kept close by and took out her wedding dress, moving her hand over it lovingly. It had been such a joyous occasion despite all the hiccups. She held the wedding dress in her lap and picked up the wedding album covered nicely with a cling film and removed the film carefully. She wasn’t sure how many minutes she had been sitting there for, crying silently while she looked at the pictures in her wedding album. How quickly had things moved from happy time to sorrowful, she thought.
It was five years today since she had left Arnav Singh Raizada, her husband. Not that she had left him because she didn’t love him. On the contrary, she had left him because circumstances had forced her hand to do so. She had not known then that she would see him every day despite having left the city where he resided. She would have moved away to a different continent but it had not been possible to migrate despite all the help she had had on hand.
It was about two months after Khushi had left Arnav, his house and all her loved ones that she had found out she was pregnant. Having left no choice but to endure the pain all alone, she had moved to Allahabad, a city about 115 miles away from her beloved Lucknow where her Amma Babuji resided.
No one would think of her moving to a city where she didn’t know anyone and by no one she meant her family and Arnav. In their eyes as well as Arnav’s she was gone forever. It was in Allahabad that she had given birth to her sons, with none of her family around for support. Some kind friends she’d made at the beginning stayed with her until she came back home from the hospital with her sons, drained physically and mentally. She had given birth to dizygotic or fraternal twins.
Khushi being a religious person had gone to a priest when the time was right, got their horoscope made, done the needed puja to thank Devi Maiyya and pray for the safety, health and long life of her sons and had their names kept- Aarush for the elder one and Ayush for the younger one.
As they grew older the ache in Khushi’s heart over Arnav intensified. There were too many times when she was reminded of Arnav- times when he got annoyed, when he got hurt, when he was happy and especially when he showed care for his loved ones. They were so much like him! Both of them had similar polite manners and the same charm; only Ayush, the younger one was a little impulsive like Khushi at times. Most days he followed his elder brother around and let him happily boss over.
She wiped her tears away with the end of her dupatta; determined not to cry anymore. Arnav must have moved on with his life like she had planned he would and she-she needed to move on too. Not that she hadn’t tried to do so. But this was no big city and where could she move on to with two boys in tow?
She had been fortunate in Allahabad since when she arrived, she had found a place to live on rent for cheap. Not only that, her land lady; an old woman who was declared cranky by the entire neighbourhood had stood by her strongly when she had given birth to her sons and given her an occupation. She had been the wife of a sweetmeat maker and she had been delighted to find that Khushi was sweetmeat maker’s daughter.
Once Khushi had proved she could make mouth-watering sweets; especially Jalebis, she had been given the responsibility of running the shop. When the old lady died a year back, Khushi had come into possession of the shop as per her will, with no living family present in the old lady’s life. Since then Khushi had made a great success of it. Allahabad knew where to go when they wanted delicious Jalebis and other sweets on festivals.
She thanked her ever present Devi Maiyya for all the good that had been bestowed upon her, muttered a prayer for Arnav and wiped the last of her tears. It was time to go down and get to work.
*A FEW HOURS LATER*
Khushi closed the door of her house as they all went for a walk in the park with their dog Sandy. The kids were allowed to walk Sandy and hold his leash as long as they both held each of Khushi’s hands. And that was how Arnav first saw them together.