Tag Archives: Nainital

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair Chapter 19/D

Chapter 19D:

“I see you have changed your taste in clothes. Blue most certainly suits you though. Good morning Khushi.” Arnav said as soon as he saw Khushi parking her scooter at the Barista parking. He was wearing a green vest with Khakhi coat and same coloured baggy pants today.

He looked mouth wateringly sexy, thought Khushi as she gave him her first glance this morning. She parked her scooter carefully and slipped the keys in her purse. Then she looked up at him, avoided his question on her choice of clothes for the time being and gave him a sombre smile, “Good morning to you too. All ready for the day out as a common man with 500 rupees in your pocket?”

Arnav showed his wallet that held five notes of hundred each and at her nod, put the wallet back in his back pocket. Her looked like a man ought to look, oozing manliness and with a smirk that could capture any woman’s heart on his face.

“So what’s the first place in the list of places to visit?” Arnav asked, leaning against the car he’d parked.

“I plan to take you to the places that are an integral part of this town. Today I’m going to take you to the famous Naini Lake, thandi road, the ropeway and to Kilbury in the end. I wanted you to visit the Naina devi temple as well since the view from there is amazing but .. I’ll leave that on how the day goes. We will watch the sun set in Kilbury and come back as that is a sight not to be missed. But first-“

“Sounds like I’ll be moving into your magical land of nature, beauty and tranquility today. Khushi-“

Arnav broke in and a look of discomfort passed his face as Khushi looked on. He continued, “Khushi, are you sure we don’t need more money?”

Arnav kept on thinking of ways to woo Khushi. What if she liked something while they were looking and wanted to buy it but didn’t have enough money on her? If he didn’t have any, he won’ be able to buy anything for her too! This thought made him uncomfortable. He’d never faced lack of cash since the day he turned successful.

“Arnav, I am absolutely sure you won’t need more money. However, if you want to shop for Anjali Di or Dean any time, you may of course do it later when you’re by yourself. I’m sure you’ll remember the way with your photographic memory.” Khushi smiled a little too brightly.

She could have bitten her tongue when the information about photographic memory slipped out. She remembered very well the last time it had come into picture and she didn’t want to think of that time. A rosy hue covered her cheeks.

“Ah yes- my photographic memory.” Judging by the way his eyes became unfocused, Khushi could see he remembered the same moment in time when she had last used the word and what had been the result of it.

Khushi could have groaned out aloud in frustration at her gaffe. She didn’t want him to remember anything today that was associated with their past. How in the world were they going to move ahead in the present if they kept on thinking about the past?

She looked away from his piercing gaze and into the distance for a second to gather her thoughts. Then as if she was done with the task, she spoke briskly, “Alright then. First on the list is Bhimtal. It is about 25 kilometers away from here and famous for water sports. I need to meet someone there as well so that’ll be my one task done.”

Arnav was curious, “Whom do you plan to meet out there? Isn’t that a very small place?”

“Yes it is, but I have a contact there that works with local small businesses. I have to speak to him.”

“You promote local products? What kind of products?” Arnav was not surprised that Khushi was working to promote local small business. But he was surprised with the knowledge that despite being so out of spirits and terribly hurt when she had come to Nainital, she put her miseries behind to help others. She had been immersed in good work for others while he only ever thought about himself. A wave of regret washed him as he looked at Khushi with new eyes that adored her even more. Maybe this was why he had adored her and not known it. Arnav tapped on his inherent nature of hiding pain when he felt it and looked at her with question in his eyes.

Khushi blushed as she saw admiration in his eyes. She stammered, “I-It’s—nothing really. It’s just that I’m helping some people with their tour guide business; you know, for campers who come to visit the town and don’t wish to live in big hotels but in vicinity of nature during their entire stay. It’s nothing really.”

“I’m sure whatever it is that you’re helping them with, it is doing great things for their business.”  Arnav said confidently, making Khushi’s face break into a smile. She liked this Arnav- he had great confidence in her abilities as opposed to the one who mocked her efforts in the past. The memory of how he had once humiliated her in the office by mocking her while praising her wiped the smile of her face. She turned abruptly to her purse and started hunting for keys to her scooter inside. She found them and handed it to him.
“Here you go. You’re going to drive my scooter for today.”

A look of horror passed on Arnav’s face as he looked at the keys and the scooter she had just parked. He closed his eyes visibly hesitant about her plans and his ability to ride what looked like a vehicle made for girls. Khushi giggled inwardly. His Highness is not going to forget this trip so easily after what he’ll have to go through. She taunted softly, “Scared Mr. Arnav Singh Raizada?”

“Arnav Singh Raizada is not scared of anyone and most certainly not of your tin pot scooter ride Khushi Kumari Gupta. I’m just meditating on something from work.” Arnav’s offended and outraged reply, with his eyes still closed came pat back.

Khushi giggled loud this time. “Meditate my foot! Don’t be chicken Arnav. This scooter is quite safe. You wanted to spend the day with me and this is how I spend my day when I roam about.” She moved on towards her Scooty Pep and said, “What are we waiting for?”

Arnav opened his eyes, a calm stealing over him. He can do this. If driving that small scooter, he gulped, was going to make Khushi happy, he will do it. He took the keys from her hand and asked her about how it operated. She instructed him on what to do to start the scooter and things he should be careful about while driving the scooter in the town and then on the outskirts of the town.

Arnav wore his helmet while Khushi put on hers. He sat on the scooter feeling ridiculous and Khushi sat behind him. Arnav started and then smiled. Maybe this scooter riding was not such a bad idea after all since Khushi was going to sit very close to him. He felt zinging electricity run through him when she actually put her hands around his waist.

“What the—“his voice didn’t resemble his own at the moment to his ears. It sounded shocked and strangled. He tried again, “What are you doing Khushi?”

Khushi spoke to his back, “I need to make sure I don’t fall off. Now drive along kind Sir and I shall guide you on the way.”

With a huge grin on his face, Arnav rode off. They moved away from the town soon and were on the outskirts. Khushi didn’t speak much, simply pointed out various places they may visit on the way or places that were worth watching. Arnav loved the feel of her hands around his waist and would have loved to spend an eternity riding the scooter. Unfortunately for him, they reached Bhimtal too soon. He now wished he had not speeded. He kicked himself mentally for not driving at the minimum speed. No matter, he had this whole day with Khushi holding on to him on the scooter. Just the thought of it brought out radiating happiness in his eyes.

Not that Khushi could see his eyes since he was wearing his Aviator glasses. But she could feel that he was happy. She felt a smile reach her lips at the knowledge that he was happy but she fought it back. Her hands made to leave his waist but he was driving fast and she really was scared that she’d fall off so she let them be. What she had thought would be a prank to make him uncomfortable was turning against her.  She could feel the heat of his body and shivered with the contact every time her chest hit his back when he braked. Physical attraction had a lot of answer for, making a person mad with desire like that. She muttered a few choice curses against her own body and tried to keep a distance. It was impossible of course since the scooter had only so much sitting space. She heaved a sigh of relief when they reached Bhimtal. A guy was walking towards them. Probably her contact, thought Arnav. The guy came up and after bowing to a Namaste said, “Ki haal hariyaan?”

Khushi answered with a namaste and “Main theek choon. Tum kas chou Anand? Ghar pan sab kas chan? Mein lag oonuk dekh ber khushi holi. Mein itvaar din oonake koshish karounl. “

The guy nodded vigorouly, „Sab theek chan didi. Sab tumuko(n) bahut din baad dekhi ber khush haie jaala.”

Khushi smiled as she walked off with him, leaving a stunned Arnav. She spoke Kumaoni? Bitterness welled up inside him. How shallow he had been when he’d been with her in the past? He’d never once asked her what she liked, what she could do, what were her interests, who all were associated with her life that didn’t revolve around him. Hell, he’d never even known who her best friends were. How selfish he had been, talking only about what he wanted, who he was and how he was! He swore again that he’d make up to her for all the time he didn’t pay attention to her; the real Khushi inside that dynamite body.

He watched Khushi as she walked up to the guys standing in the group outside a building in Bhimtal. Khushi had asked him to wait by the scooter while she finished her talk. She didn’t want to include him yet in what she was doing. The thought hurt Arnav a bit but he braved it. After all, it would take time to earn back the same level of friendliness and trust where they could talk about anything they wanted.

He looked on as Khushi smiled and talked. She was explaining something and everyone around her was paying attention. At times, their faces were wreathed with smiles and at times laughter. It fascinated Arnav how a small smile on their faces made Khushi’s eyes glow and her animation increase. She used her hands to make gestures, a lot! Finally, they seemed to have concluded the talk and Khushi said Namaste to them and walked back to Arnav.

“Work done?” Arnav asked with a smile. Her reply was a reciprocating smile and nod. She sat behind him once again and said, “Quite satisfactorily in fact. Thanks for asking.”

“Where to next Ms. Guide?” Arnav looked back at her. The smile tugging the corners of her mouth was very tempting. Her luscious, plump, pink, lips with sheen of wetness on them were too inviting.  Arnav felt like kissing her but stopped his impulsiveness on time. There were others present here; others who respected Khushi, her morals, her ideals and her work. He wouldn’t do anything that will bring her down in their eyes.

“Next, we go back into town and to Naini Lake.” Khushi quipped, rubbing her lips as if she could feel his thoughts. Arnav looked forward again and started the scooter. Soon they were back in Nainital and moving towards Naini Lake.

The view around was calm and beautiful. It was still early morning so there were very few people around. Apparently tourists crowded the area at about noon. Khushi wanted to know if Arnav would like to do some boating.

“Paddle boats?” asked Arnav.

“No, I mean boating, with a boat man who would row the boat while you sit and enjoy the nature around you in peace.”

“I’m in. Let me go buy the tickets.”, said Arnav. Khushi stopped him.

“Do buy some popcorn for me please while you’re getting the tickets. I already have a bottle of water for us and a picnic basket for later. I always eat popcorn when I’m in the boat.”

Arnav looked at her with amused eyes and she blushed. He definitely didn’t need to know that! Damn her stupid mouth. Khushi lowered her eyes and immediately looked back up when Arnav’s hand came to grasp her chin.

“Look up Khushi. You’ve nothing to be embarrassed about. I’ll get your popcorn.”

The look in his eyes was enough to make Khushi want to sit down. It held tenderness and understanding that he had never displayed before. She liked this Arnav, a lot actually! Arnav made quick work of it and came back holding a popcorn bag and tickets. He motioned with his eyes towards the boat and Khushi followed him.

When the boat ride ended, Arnav got out of the boat and held out his hand for Khushi to grasp and come out. One look at his face and Khushi couldn’t help but give her hand to him. This boat ride had brought as much revelation to her about her own self as well as Arnav. She let her thoughts flow for a moment thinking about the boat ride.

Arnav Singh Raizada who always believed in the being at the helm of any boat, captaining it had allowed the boatman to row while he sat, contented and happy. His face held an aura of joy as he looked around, absorbing the quiet, listening to the chirping of the birds, sound of the oars dipping and coming out of the water, in fact Khushi felt as if he had actually become one with nature.  Khushi had brought red, juicy apples with her to eat during the boat ride; a breakfast of sorts. She offered one to Arnav and ate one herself along with her popcorn. Arnav was happy to munch on the apple alone and smiled his thanks.  While he behaved like that, Khushi had thawed a little in her attitude towards him.

Here was the man she had dreamed of, the one she had fallen in love with and could easily fall in love with again. Here was the man who was confident that he could do whatever he wanted to but for the moment, he was ready to let someone else take the lead and stay content.  The only thing that had broken the calm waters of her happiness was the thought that he was also the same man who had accused her of infidelity and lack of character. It was so hard to keep track of all the bitterness when she saw this side of him.

Perhaps her bitterness had shone through for Arnav had looked at her, his eyebrows raised in question. She had shaken her head and smiled as if to convey all was well and she was happy that he was enjoying.

Arnav looked at Khushi and said, “Thank you for bringing me here. I enjoyed the boat ride and the view but most of all, I enjoyed our companionable silence. I have never shared that with anyone before.”

Such a simple admission but it worked wonders. Khushi’s face took on a smile as she told him, “Glad you liked the boat ride. Now we move to Nainadevi Temple? Or do you wish to skip it? We could opt for the ropeway. Walking on thandi sadak is something that should be done later on.”

“Khushi this is the day you planned. I wanted to see Nainital with your eyes. If you think the temple is the next place to go to, by all means- let us go. I have nothing against the gods these days. I am thankful to them for many things, one of which is you.”

Khushi looked away from him as tears gathered in her eyes and a lump formed in her throat. Oh he was the devil to say things like that! Didn’t he know how those words affected her? His next words surprised her completely.

“I’m sorry Khushi. I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t want you to feel that I’m simply mouthing words to please you or trying to get you back by sweet talking. I mean it but you don’t need to hear it right now I guess.”

“It is all right Arnav. Let us move on.” Khushi said and simply moved away. She was not sure how to respond to his shocking statement.

They visited the temple, enjoyed the view of Mall road from the temple. Khushi told him that coming here always had a calming effect on her. She found the place serene and gorgeous and could sit for hours on end. Arnav quietly agreed that the place was indeed gorgeous but also mentioned that he was somehow happier with nature rather than sitting in vicinity of the temple. His God was nature. Khushi looked at him, trying to gauge how serious he was about his declaration. This- from Arnav, who had once absolutely rejected the idea of talking about his feelings, when it came to religion and God!

They went to the ropeway the next which was quite uneventful. Soon it was lunch time. They sat down by the park close to the ropeway and picnicked there. Khushi had brought a picnic basket which had been stored inside her Scooty Pep storage box along with a red rug to sit on. The fare was simple. Sandwiches- vegetable and cheese since Khushi knew Arnav liked them and some salad. For dessert, she had packed some ripe peaches. They ate their lunch while sitting completely at ease with each other, talking about non-related topics like politics and finance.

While she packed the empty plates back and the rug, Arnav cleared the area of any debris and threw the waste into the garbage can close by.

It was one of the best days of his life, Arnav decided while they were walking along the thandi sadak. Not only had Khushi been relaxed and spoken to him as if they’d never fought, she had also opened up to physical contact. She didn’t flinch so much when he accidentally brushed against her or touch her. She had held him by the waist all day whenever they sat on her scooter. Of course, the sexual current was vibrant every time that happened but she ignored it and he tried to ignore it. He loved this day because it brought Khushi closer to him.  He was wondering if he could plan out his next step soon.

Thandi Sadak had pine trees, deodar trees and oak trees lined up along its sides, and was in actuality a cool road to walk on. The green hills that surrounded the town and the lake were a balm to his soul.  The singing of the birds made for a lovely song that he could hear. He knew Khushi shared this song because he could see the same smile on her face too when she looked up to hear the birds chirping.

It was time for the Sun to set before they reached Kilbury.  Khushi went on to talk about it as Arnav looked on at the view laid in front of him.

“You can see the Himalayas on that side and here, on the other side you see “Tarai” area, fields divided into terraces and village houses. The forest around is made up of lush oak, pine and rhododendron.  There are many people who come here for a picnic or simply to sit and watch the clouds hover about. I love coming here with my book when I don’t have anything else on my mind.”

Arnav grinned at her, “I like your idea of coming here with a book; no distractions and pure quiet; something that is missing in Delhi big time. Is there a place to stay out here?”

Khushi pointed to a guest house up ahead, “That’s the forest bungalow where you can stay if you wish to come here. But then, you’ve got a cottage in the countryside in England. Why’d you wish to come here?”

Arnav shrugged his shoulders, “It’s a good place and that’s probably why.  Plus you like it here, don’t you?”

Khushi looked away from him and said, “Yes, I like it here.”

Arnav put his hand under her chin and made her look up, “Khushi, I will come here because I know you like it here. If you are here, where else can I be?”

“Arnav-“ Khushi tried to speak but stopped with a gasp as Arnav came closer to her. She took a step back and tried to move away but he held her by the shoulders, gently.

“Stop running away from me Khushi. It hurts me when you do that. I am not about to do anything that you wouldn’t allow me to or want me to.” Arnav told her gently, not wanting to spoil the last hour with her. “I want to watch the sun set with you out here Khushi. I want to watch it while your hand rests in mine. Can we do that? Please?”

Khushi couldn’t deny him, not after his request. She quietly nodded and they sat down by the ledge, waiting for the sun to go down, hand in hand.

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair Chapter 19/B

Do forgive me if you find any mistakes despite having proof-read the chapter beforehand. My eyes are killing me right now with that acne inside the right eyelid. 😦

Chapter 19B

A bright new morning woke Arnav up from his peaceful slumber with a smile upon his face. Obviously the reason for this smile was his dream about Khushi and the much anticipated day out with her. Sleep had eluded him last night for a long while his guilt of his earlier treatment of her gnawed at his soul.

He wasn’t sure if he would ever be able to forgive himself for all that he had done to hurt Khushi. Ironic wasn’t it, that he had been the one to hurt her the most when he was supposed to be the one to bring utmost happiness into her life.  After much pacing around the room, he had decided that his current modus operandi of winning back Khushi was the right step if ever wanted to live peacefully with his conscience and in his life with the woman he loved. He sat up, stretched and headed purposefully towards the bathroom with his newspaper, a spring in his step.

Khushi had been up and about long before Arnav woke up. She had been roaming about in the garden thinking constantly about where she would take Arnav today and how they’d spend the day. Strange that she didn’t really feel her sanity endangered as she would have a month back. The only feeling that persisted was an exciting fizz in her stomach as her heart wondered what may happen during the day time when they were alone together. She mocked herself- a month back, she’d have run miles with the thought of spending any alone time with Arnav at all, but things had changed today, and so quickly too! She was ready to spend time with him without any coercion or seduction.

She refused to become anxious and kept the worries her head warned her off at the back of her mind. Now was not the time to be scared or give in to cowardice. This was the time to face Arnav, show him how unsuitable she found him the way he was, with his “kiss-my-feet-I-am-the-King” attitude. However there was a part of her head that rang alarm bells and made her body nerveless, the part that reminded her of how cruel he could be.

This was not to say he was all bad, her heart argued with that part of her brain. He was kind, loving and generous to the people he loved or cared for. He may be ruthless and not give a damn in the business world but he had never mistreated any employee. Sure, when he got angry the whole office could walk on eggshells for all her cared but he was never unfair. As long as the company employees worked in his well-oiled office, giving their best performances, he was happy.

In his personal life, Khushi had seen more than one example of how he behaved with people he cared for and people he disliked. She had seen both the sides of him. The side that worshipped her sister, the side that kept people he had to socially interact with but regarded with distaste at bay, without being rude or impolite, the side that was nice to children and the side that desired her so much so that–Drat! Despite her rigorous efforts, her heart kept on sending memory messages to the brain bank, taking it back to the events of the past.

The time when Arnav had cornered her in the office at a party, the time at Raizada house, at the tennis club, the day when they all went to the temple for special prayer and how he asked for her forgiveness with his eyes for his earlier behaviour kept coming up. And that was not all- the time when he had gotten mad with rage when she had refused to go out with him and break her date with another of her friends guided by plain jealousy, the times when he would catch her unawares with his eyes, the times when he would be there to take care of her and protect her before she came through any harm, the weekend at the Goa beach house when they had finally given in to the feelings and desires, the wild night of passion on the beach that had followed the weekend; all of these memories kept wanting to surface again and again while she pushed them back.

Khushi told herself that this was not the time to indulge or live in past memories; not when there was new memory to be made – the one that would be the first step towards deciding whether Arnav was worthy of her love or not. She had given it unconditionally earlier but now, she would keep it safe until she was sure he deserved it.

Last night, she had informed her grandmother of her decision and had been wished good. Mrs. Gupta had been surprisingly calm about it, simply reminding Khushi that her happiness rested in her own hands and if she thought Arnav worthy of a second chance one way or another, she should throw all the doubts out from her mind as one throws garbage out of the house. Negativity needs to get out letting positive thoughts take hold of the mind so that peace may prevail.

Khushi had kissed her grandmother good night and assured her that she will first and foremost look at the positive side and only then count the negatives against the positives. However she would also make sure, she vowed to herself, that she would not fall into the trap of physical longing this time and give in to his demands and wishes.

She grabbed her bag from the nearby table to check the contents of her bag, to ensure everything she’d need in the span of this day was there.

She was dressed today in a blue Kurta that had little white flowers embroidered on it with white tights. The sleeves of the Kurta were organza fabric and the dress was her favourite cotton for summers. She was about to put on her glasses and then debated with herself. Should she wear her lenses? Maybe not. She didn’t want Arnav to think she was wearing lenses especially because of him. She put on her glasses more firmly on the nose. So firm was the push that she got hurt on both sides of her nose by the frame of the glass.

“Aowww damn it!” Khushi swore and despite several lectures to not go there, her brain transported her to the time and the incident when he had taken her to his beach house in Goa for the weekend before he had proposed.

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair Chapter 19

Hello readers! Here’s presenting the next chapter. As usual, shall wait for your likes and comments. 🙂 I have decided to divide this chapter into A-B-C sections so that I am able to do justice to all the thoughts portrayed by Arnav, Khushi, their outing as well as the flashback that is an essential part of this chapter. Enjoy 19 A. 19B comes tomorrow. 🙂

Chapter 19 A:

Time seemed to have stopped for Arnav as he waited for her in Barista, occupying one of the love seats near the glass window. He kept looking at his watch every five minutes, waiting for his happiness personified; his Khushi to enter. She was late today and it was already quarter to five. It was also very unlike her since Khushi was always the one girl he knew who prided on her punctuality. He was anxious, no he was worried. His heart was sure he would come to meet him, but his logical mind gave him doubts. His head kept on telling him, he was insane to think she’d even entertain this meeting in her head in any way. Khushi in a way, was as ruthless as he was.

His heart refused to admit defeat though. Now that he knew what he felt for Khushi was way beyond lust, maybe even love he was not ready to let her go. He closed his eyes and willed his heart and mind to become one thought, one purpose. And just as quickly opened them. She was here!

Khushi entered the cafe after a lot of contemplation. It was alright to sit in the room and decide that she’d meet him. But when the time came to actually see him, she had grown cold feet. She’d been standing outside the cafe, in the parking lot since the last one hour, since the time she’d seen Payal off at the railway station. She hadn’t been able to muster enough courage until now to get her feet to move towards the cafe. It was constant encouragement that her head had given to her “almost-faint-with-anxiety”heart that had made her finally move ahead. She looked at herself in the glass doors. She had not particularly dressed up to meet Arnav today. In fact, her defiance had been such that she had donned her glasses, and worn a salwar kurta. She knew Arnav would expect her in her natural look-jeans and T-shirt with no make up on. That had made her wear a bit of make up too. She had braced herself for the astonished looks from Payal and her grandmother when she’d come down her room. Both had done exactly that but kept quiet. For that, she was grateful.

It had been alright until she had said goodbye to Payal and made her way to the cafe. Doubts about her appearance came up then. Was she overdressed? Had she applied too much make-up? What would he think when he’d see her like this? She’d gained weight and looked curvy. Maybe wearing salwar kurta had been a bad idea since she looked very – filled in in her dress. And why did she choose the red one when she had been planning to wear the blue one? She kicked herself several times mentally for her dress, her looks. She worried non stop all the way and while standing outside for an hour.

Debate raged on in her head if she should go home and change. Finally, a bell rang in her head and her heart eagerly complied to this thought. What did it matter how she looked? She was giving him a chance to gain her trust, her love; not the other way round. He should be worried about how he’d behave with her, and she should not at all bother to look good for him!

Arnav knew the exact second Khushi came in as his breath hitched in his throat. She was wearing red! Nothing else could have put that smile on his face as that dress did. He knew in an instant that it must be have been an unconscious decision because from the way he looked, he knew Khushi had dressed up in defiance. Khushi almost never went for make-up if she could help it and today she was wearing it. Earlier Khushi would’ve worn a pair of jeans and a top to defy him but no more. Today she wore an Indian traditional dress to signify that she wished to follow the old fashioned rule of courting. Her glasses, that had been absent in Delhi told him that she wanted to him to see her with her as she was. So she wore glasses, so she had bad eye sight. What she didn’t realize is that such things didn’t bother him. It may have at one point in time, but no more. She could wear sack clothes and dress like a clown and he’d still find her beautiful.

Khushi felt his presence a split second before she saw him sitting like a royal prince in one of the love seat by the glass window. Hesitation and discomfort took hold of her being. Was she doing the right thing by coming here to hear him out? But how could she not? She had promised Jiji and herself that she’d give him a fair chance. She looked at him again while she walked towards him. Her heart beat just that little quicker seeing him dressed casually. The man was a powerful dynamo and no matter what he wore, he still looked dazzling.

She schooled her features into a mask and gave him a polite smile as she took the other seat. “Hope you’ve not been waiting long, sorry am late.” she said.

Arnav raised his eyebrow and smiled, “What happened to Hi?”

She never even cracked a smile, “Hi.”

Arnav smiled in acknowledgement. “Hi. It was no problem waiting for you. If needed, I’d have waited all my life. What happened though? You’re never late.”

“I – got waylaid by something.” Khushi grabbed the first excuse that came to her mind. Thankfully Arnav didn’t question her any further on it. Instead he asked, “What would you like for refreshments? An espresso as usual?”

“I’ve changed a bit Arnav. I don’t drink espresso anymore.” To the standing waiter she smiled and said, “one mocha please.”

Arnav ordered his usual double shot of espresso and said, “So you’re off espresso?”

“Not really but I don’t feel like drinking espresso so often any more. Even when I do, I drink cappuccino or mocha these days.” Khushi replied.

They stayed quiet for some time but it was not the kind of quiet that was uncomfortable. It surprised Khushi to feel that while they were quiet, the comfort level of simply sitting there with him was very high. She was not at all on the edge! Instead, some part of her was waiting for him to speak on the main topic, the reason for which she had today agreed to meet him. Apparently, he didn’t intend to speak about it as yet.

Arnav looked covertly from under his lashes as they waited for the coffee to arrive. She looked prepared to sit with him and talk. It encouraged him a lot more than he’d have thought and granted him the strength to hold on until after the coffee had arrived. His earlier instinct had been to quit all this wooing and courting. When she came in to the cafe, he had looked as if she’d run away if he even spoke a word. His heart wanted him to simply go down on his knees and beg her to come back to him but now he realized she waited for him to court him in the right way, thereby earning her love back. He was ready to go it.

When the coffee arrived, he thanked the waiter and said to her, “Do you come here often with your friends?”

Khushi picked up her mocha cup with care as she replied, “Sometimes. I don’t go out much. Mostly I like to take my car and go away on a long drive. Sometimes I simply go to Bhimtal or sometimes to the nearby towns.”

“Your maternal family has always stayed here, in that house?” asked Arnav.

Khushi took a sip of her mocha and said, “As a matter of fact, yes. My mother grew up here and was married from here. Everyone out here knows our family and gives it the respect it has earned. My grandfather build two schools out here; one for the girls and one high-school. He along with my grandmother had been one of the most loved couples. Even today, grandmother is respected throughout the town. I love this town and have been coming here for my holidays since I was kid. I know all there is to know about the town and the nearby places simply because I thought one day I may settle down here and maybe manage grandmother’s estate. I guess  I will be doing that.”

Arnav ignored the red herring. “I’ve been to Nainital before but only when business demanded it and only for a day or two. I never got a chance to know much about the city.” Arnav said, finally taking the first step towards his well thought out plan. “Can you tell me something about it?”

This request surprised Khushi. She had thought he would simply come to the point, as he always did and demand that she forgive him. If she was honest with herself, she felt a new pleasure in knowing that he wanted to know something about the place she loved.

She sat quietly for a bit and then spoke, “Do you know how the name Nainital came to be?” At the shake of his head, she smiled, “It’s something to do with the story of Shiva and Sati. Did you know that they were the first lovers of the Universe ? When Sati died, Shiva was devastated. He was inconsolable, he roamed about the universe with Sati’s dead body in his hand until Lord Vishnu cut Sati’s body into pieces. It is said that Sati’s eye fell in the lake here. The eye is called “Nain” in Sanskrit and lake is called “tal”. Thus the place got its name Nainital.”

“Lovely story that despite being mythical sounds reasonable. And the lake is quite something, isn’t it.”Arnav mused. He wasn’t religious but he knew Khushi was and it would not do well to mock her sentiments at any time. In fact, he could actually empathise with Shiva. To lose the one woman you love is devastating.

A first genuine smile appeared on Khushi’s lips since the time she had entered the cafe. She said, “Nainital is called “lake paradise” and Naini lake is one of the main attractions for the tourists. Kingfisher yacht race takes place here. It is also a great source of fresh water and fresh water fish. In this season you will find yachts, boats; both paddle and rowing boats aplenty on the lake. If you have the time or the inclination, you can go there and enjoy an afternoon out.”

“Hmm..”was all Arnav said as she gulped down his espresso. Then, as if thinking about it, he said, “What are the other places to see in and around Nainital?”

Khushi raised her eyebrow, “You plan to make this a touristy visit Arnav?”

Aranv nonchalantly shrugged his shoulder, “I’m here as long as I need to be here to convince you that I’m not that bad a guy and do deserve a second chance.”

Khushi hurriedly looked down. A thought occurred to her, “So you’re not here on business?”

Arnav shook his head slowly, his gaze showing the seriousness of his reply, “No Khushi, I’m here simply for you. My business is on hold until I can prove myself worthy in your eyes as well as my own. “

“Arnav–” Khushi started to shake her head but was ruthlessly cut off as Arnav said, “Please Khushi, let me finish. By coming here, you’ve given me a ray of hope that maybe I still hold a modicum of respect, a place in your heart somewhere. I know that I have wronged you badly but all I am asking you to do is give me some time to prove I am still worthy of your thoughts, your love. After that, if you still can’t find any love for me in your heart, I will leave. I will never ever bother you.”

“I don’t know how to do it Arnav.” Khushi placed her situation in front of him honestly. “Even if I may forgive you, even I found it in my heart to love you, how will I ever live with the fact that you once thought of me as-”

“Stop, please. Let the past be where it is for now. All I am asking you to do Khushi is to look at me without colouring me from what happened between us in the past. Let this be a new beginning? ”

“How?” Asked Khushi, bewildered. Her heart wanted to give him a chance, desperately even though her mind quaked at the thought of it.

“Spend the day with me tomorrow. Show me the places you like in Nainital tomorrow Khushi.” Arnav put forward his proposition at a gaping Khushi.

“You want to see Nainital with me? Why?”

“I want to see it the way you see it. I want to know the reason why you love this town. Will you show it to me Khushi?”

She could have said no, but a part of Khushi wanted to do that–she wanted to show him her haunts, her favourite places. She wanted him to see what she liked and tell him why she liked it. Maybe that could be the first step towards better understanding? After all, didn’t she say she’d give him a fair chance?

She nodded her head in acquiescence. “Okay Arnav. I will show you around tomorrow. But I have a condition. We will go around the town like ordinary people. No attitude, no suits, no fancy cars, no bodyguards, no expensive hotels for lunch. You will be an ordinary man with 500 rupees in your pocket and I will be who I am. I have seen your world and now I want to show  your mine. I want you to see what it is like to not be a billionaire with the world at his feet.”

“Deal.” Arnav agreed to her condition immediately. She was ready to show him around and that in itself was a feat!

While he was still digesting the fact that he had gotten Khushi to agree to his plans, Khushi placed some money on the table and got up, “Dress casually but keep a light sweater with you. It tends to get cool in the evening around these parts. See you tomorrow morning at 8 Arnav. I will meet you here. Here’s my share of the money for coffee.”

Arnav had no intention of arguing at this time. “See you.” Before she could guess his intention, he leaned in and gave her a peck on the cheek. Thoroughly taken aback by this gesture, she looked up and was alarmed to find those liquid amber eyes so close to her. He looked into her eyes and Khushi felt as if she’d melt. Her eyes strayed to his mouth close to hers as he whispered, “I’m allowed to do that, aren’t I?”

Khushi simply looked at him, her eyes pools of want that made Arnav want to kiss her again, this time around on the lips. But her lashes quickly fell over her eyes and when she opened them,  they were devoid of the fire that raged inside her. She simply nodded and left.

Arnav saw Khushi leave, his dark glasses hiding the emotions that showed plainly in his eyes. This round went to him, with Khushi agreeing to show him something of Nainital tomorrow. He dialled Mrs. Gupta’s number. It was picked up immediately by her. He smiled and he was sure Mrs Gupta could hear his smile, “Mubarak ho naniji. Khushi has agreed to show me Nainital tomorrow. We shall leave tomorrow morning by your car. She has demanded that I travel in her car and learn something of Nainital with the eyes of an ordinary man.”

“An ordinary man? Whatever does that mean?” Mrs. Gupta asked from the other end.

“What she means is- I should leave my rich and arrogant billionaire attitude behind along with my riches. In her words, “I want you to leave your “pompous-ass-I-am-always-right-self” behind and see what Nainital looks like with my eyes. Look at it with the eyes of an ordinary man and you’ll understand something of me. She’s smart, your granddaughter.”

He heard Mrs Gupta laugh and unwillingly a smile lit his face too. He was thankful to her wholeheartedly for her assistance in getting Khushi back. He could never forget how she had calmly but firmly reprimanded him during their first meet. He had wanted to tell her everything but she had refused to listen to him, saying she knew he had broken Khushi’s trust in some manner. If anything would persuade her to help him, it would be Khushi’s happiness because at one level she knew her granddaughter very well and realized that without Arnav, she would always remain unhappy. She knew that no matter how much Khushi may deny she was in love with him. That had brought tears to his eyes. Arnav had hung on to this small sliver of hope.

For the first time ever, arrogant Arnav had been absent from that meeting, overtaken by Arnav the humble man. He had declared his love for Khushi to her and convinced her that he wanted to win her trust, her love back.  Mrs Gupta had told him then that she would help him only if she found Khushi’s reaction in his favour after their meeting at Mallika’s engagement. Once the meeting had been done, Mrs Gupta had called him herself, extending the hand of help and declaring without a doubt that Khushi could be happy only when she would accept his love for her. Today was the first step towards his redemption.

Mrs Gupta said, “Yes, I know she is smart and that will make your job a little more difficult. You have chosen to fall in love with a woman who can stand for herself, think for herself.”

“I’m proud of the fact naniji that Khushi is such a woman. No one else could have seen me the way she does.” Arnav said with heartfelt sincerity, in a tone that was tinged with hestiation. “Maybe I’m not good enough for her naniji. This is the reason why I am going to prove myself to her as well as myself and then let her decide.”

“My blessings are with you my dear Arnav. Best of luck to you for tomorrow.” Mrs. Gupta blessed him and they said their goodbyes.

Tomorrow morning couldn’t come soon for Arnav now.

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair- Chapter 12

Chapter 12

The alarm indicated that it was time to wake up. Khushi woke up with a smile on her face as she flounced off the bed and went to the window to see the Sun rise above the hills. She loved this time in the morning and woke up every day before Sunrise simply to see it come out. It gave her a feeling of positivity and optimism; that one must always look forward to tomorrow for it will bring light and darkness will vanish.

As she sat by the window ledge thinking about her day schedule and the list of activities that would be done once they reached Saat Tal, she made a pretty picture with her cream dressing gown billowing around her in the wind, her long hair that was free from its binds flowing freely in the breeze. She would put her hand up and try to control her long brown tresses once in a while but otherwise she didn’t much bother with it. She had a lovely smile upon her face as the first light of the sun shone through the sky.

Arnav who sat in the garden, on a swing that was further away from Khushi’s window thought she was the most beautiful woman on this earth. He wondered how he had never bothered to look at her so early in the morning when in Delhi. He used to go jogging every morning and cross her window. He used to look at her sitting by the window but never once did he stop to look at her. How foolish had he been to have missed those moments of Khushi in all her glory! Yes, her hair had not been so long before, had just about reached her shoulders but still, she’d have made just as pretty a picture.

Khushi’s smile faded bit by bit as a part of her became aware of her body’s tingle. It was as if the breeze had a special fragrance that it carried across to her, Arnav’s scent. It felt to her as if he was around, his scent enveloping her little by little, his gaze searing her body. Her eyes closed as senses took over. Yes, she could feel him close by. But how could that be!

Shaking her head at her own flights of fantasy, Khushi got up from the window ledge and was about to leave when her gaze fell on the garden swing. Her mouth fell open in shock. Indeed, Arnav was here and her senses were not fooling her! She froze for a moment until she heard him shout, “Care to come down and ask me what I might be doing here or do you plan to catch flies in that delicious mouth of yours?”

How dare he mock her! Khushi fumed her good mood evaporating. She didn’t need this today. He had to go and she had to turn calm again; she had to control her emotions, she had a lot of work on her hands today. And yet her anger would not abate, calm would not prevail. Quickly, she stomped off the steps and out the house, into the garden.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing here Arnav Singh Raizada?”

“Good morning to you too, my love!”  He grinned and continued, “I’ve come to woo my fiancee, Khushi Kumari Gupta. I’ve come to beg for her forgiveness and do what ever it takes to get back into her good books. I’ve come to make her see that she still loves me, will forgive me for my mistakes and consent to be my life-partner.” Arnav’s voice that held amusement in the first sentence quickly turned into sincere pleading.

“Arnav I don’t-” Khushi started but was interrupted gently by Arnav.

“Khushi, I know I’ve made a grave error of judgement by behaving the way I did with you. I know it is a difficult mistake to forgive. But I am here to ask you to at least consider forgiving me. I do not wish to lose you Khushi.”

“Why would you care if you lost me Mr. mighty-Raizada? You had never loved me, never did love me. What game is this that you wish to play for your amusement now?”Khushi’s bitterness was laced with a healthy dose of sadness in her voice.

“I know I have been all kinds of fool Khushi when I said that I don’t love you. Since then, I’ve come to realize that it is no use fighting this feeling I have for you. It won’t go away. I don’t know if what I feel for you is love or lust of desire or affection or – I don’t know Khushi. The only love that I ever knew of was love of my siblings before you came into my life. You know that more than anyone else. At least let me try and prove to you what I feel for you is lifelong. I wish to be with your forever Khushi and I’m ready to do anything you wish me to do to get your forgiveness and your love back.”

Khushi couldn’t believe ears hearing Arnav’s declaration. “Who are you and what have you done to Arnav Singh Raizada; the man who thinks sentiments are a waste of time? The man who knows nothing about being humble, the man who can accuse anyone of anything but never admit to making mistakes. Are you saying you love me? If that is so, I don’t believe you.”

Arnav’s rueful smile was self-mocking. “I know I’ve been not so very modest when it comes to self-praise but trust me, I-”

“Trust you Arnav? Like you trusted me?” Khushi’s shrill voice broke into his sentence.

”You didn’t give me a chance to explain. The second you laid your eyes on me, you had declared me the culprit and yourself a victim that night. How do you expect me to trust you Arnav?”

Arnav closed his eyes in despair as her words conjured up that night, making Khushi’s eyes glitter with tears. “Khushi I am sorry. I will repeat it as many times as you want, any way you want.”

Tears that she had controlled all along fell now from her eyes as she looked at him. She wanted to believe him but her hurt had in gone too deep to trust his words. His accusative words still followed her after all these months. While a part of her wanted to believe in his word, her heart was too scared to accept them at their face value. She knew he was useless when it came to talking about his feeling or sentiments but at least he was trying! – argued her head but the heart silenced those words. She couldn’t trust him, not yet. She wiped her tears with one hand and looked away.

“It is useless Arnav. Go back to where you came from. Even if I forgive you I can never again trust you. I don’t think I can love you again the way I did.  My feelings are dead Arnav. Go back to your life and enjoy the company of many pleasant companions. Am sure there’s plenty of fish in the sea for you.”

Khushi’s words, calmly spoken belied her inner pain and turmoil but they couldn’t fool Arnav. As she moved to get away from him, he caught her hand and pulled her back. Gasping, Khushi fell against his chest, stabilizing herself by keeping her hands on his chest. She looked at him with outrage plain in her eyes. He caught hold of both her hands on his chest and gazed intensely into her eyes, his voice just as passionate, “I am not going anywhere Khushi, not until I have proved my self, my love for you. I will get you back, make no mistake.”

And while Khushi was still digesting this, he quickly swooped down, kissed her and let her go. Shock held Khushi in place while she saw him leave the garden and go down the path and disappearing on to the road behind the grove of trees. She wasn’t sure any more about how she should react, how she felt. While a part of her yearned to get back with Arnav, a sensible part of her asked her to hold back, to wait and see what Arnav would do to prove his remorse was genuine, that he was really in love with her.

“Khushi! What are you doing outside child? Don’t you have to get ready for the camp?” Mrs. Gupta’s voice rang out and Khushi jumped as she came out of her reverie.

“Coming grandma!” she shouted back and went back into the house.

Everyone had gathered around in groups, with volunteers handling kid of various ages. It was a first time for many of the volunteers as well as kids and every one was excited. While Sayaham handled kids that were a bit older, Khushi was holding on to the little ones. They both were two regular volunteers and were helping out the other two volunteers of their group that was to leave for Saat tal as their camp destination.

Saat tal comprised of seven lakes; a lovely camping spot just about 22 kms away from Nainital.  Here one could come and camp at any time of the year since the climate was always favourable. Khushi’s group would camp here for 4 days in total and handle 15 children in all. Activities like nature walk, listening to and identifying bird sounds, swimming in the river, crossing the bridge, obstacle course and a lot of funny games were a part of the camping agenda.

“Khushi di, the new volunteer is here. He was accepted late into the camp.” Sayaham informed Khushi as they were about to leave.

“But we already have two volunteers, why do we need one more?” Khushi was perplexed.

“Apparently Vaibhavi thinks otherwise. He’s in the office, filling out the last of attendance forms.” Sayaham grinned at her as she shook her head at Vaibhavi, the manager’s behaviour and went into the office.

As Khushi entered the office, her nerves went on red alert, looking at the back of a man dressed in dark blue sweatshirt and slacks. Well-built but lean body and the body language made her aware of who he was even before he turned around and grinned at her. “Hi.”

“YOU!” Khushi gaped at Arnav in disbelief as he stood up and shook hands with Vaibhav. Khushi knew Vaibhavi was not given to be easily impressed by anyone but by the looks of it, Arnav had charmed the socks off her.

While Khushi gritted her teeth in frustration and glared at Arnav’s back, Vaibhavi gave simpering looks to Arnav who was smiling back genially. The old cow was actually cooing her pleasure at him joining their group! Khushi muttered some choice words under her breath as Vaibhavi looked at her and smiled widely, “Khushi, take him with you to Saat Tal. He’s our newest volunteer and we must make sure he is happy and satisfied with what we do out here.”

Of course your Majesty, Khushi wanted to curtsey and say but control her impish nature. And then it clicked. Of course Vaibhavi would simper. Not only would Arnav give her more publicity by acting as a volunteer for her organization, he would also donate generously. Distaste curled up her lip as she regarded him with contempt.

“How much have you said you are willing to donate to bring that simpering smile on Vaibhavi’s face?”

“Will depend upon how this camp goes Khushi. I need to ensure my donation is going to go into good hands before I declare an amount.” Arnav’s silky reply came back and Khushi could’ve groaned with annoyance when Vaibhavi with her none to subtle hint voice said, “It is upon you to inspire confidence in Mr Raizada for our organization Khushi. A job well done now will ensure good future for this organization that has given joy to many, including you my dear.”

“Yes, Vaibhavi.”Khushi murmured and with a glare would have killed the faint hearted, he directed Arnav towards her group.

“I’m so happy to be a part of your group Ms. Gupta.” Arnav said after they’d left the office and Vaibhavi behind.

“Keep your snake tongue to yourself Mr. Raizada. You can impress Vaibhavi and others, not me with this fake volunteering. You were never even remotely interested in anything that had to do with children. So why now?”

“I think Ms. Gupta, you do me great injustice by judging me upon my past actions. I’m a changed man and ready to prove it to you. Besides, Anjali di has a special place for children in her heart. This organization is just the kind of place where she would want her share of donation to go.” Arnav replied back, his earlier amusement gone. Khushi swallowed a lump in her throat when he thought about Anjali; his sister. Anjali had gone through a series of problems herself when she had been young. It was not hard to believe she would staunchly support such as organization as this one. Forgetting for a moment that she didn’t wish to talk to him, she asked, “How’s di? And Dean?”

Arnav looked at her with tenderness. No matter how angry Khushi was with him, she had a soft spot for both Anjali and Dean. He replied, “They’re both quite well, engaged actually.”

A smile lit her face, “Really? Oh, how wonderful! Please pass on my regards and congratulations to both.”

Arnav gave her a look, “You can do that yourself too Khushi. They would be very glad to hear from you.”

Khushi shook her head in denial, “Best I don’t.”

Arnav couldn’t say anything after that since they’d reached the group that was waiting for them. After the initial introductions, Khushi paired up Arnav and Sayaham with the team of teenagers who already seemed excited to get moving. They all climbed the bus in which they were supposed to travel. Khushi being the supervisor was the last to climb into the bus and found herself sitting next to Arnav. The rest of the seats were full. Sighing, she sat down and said in a low voice, “Give up Arnav before it is too late for you to back out of this outing. You will not enjoy it. I cannot be persuaded by money, and flattery.”

“But you can be when you see the side of me you’ve not known of, Khushi. I am happy to be here and with the kids. Let me do what I wish to do.”

He sounded so different than his normal self that Khushi had to look up at him. As usual, it took her a moment to tear her gaze away from his intense amber eyes that seemed to want to eat her up. Feeling hot, she looked away and said, “Fine, be like that. But I am warning you, don’t talk about the past or our future together any more. I don’t want to hear it. If you wish to prove yourself, prove it with your actions, not just words.”

Arnav nodded his assent and said, “Alright Khushi, I will do just that. No talks of how our future could be together, no trying to pressure you.”

It was short drive and soon they reached Saat Tal. Man-made tents stood out as aliens in the thick woods that were decked with the background of majestic looking mountain peaks. Khushi got out of the bus and breathed deep. She absolutely loved this place. Warm air breezed past her, keeping her comfy as she got the children out one by one, with the help of other volunteers. George stood at the fore-front with all the kids. Khushi made sure she stayed with him since it was his first time here. George looked happy to be surrounded by the kids. Khushi saw this and smiled. Thank goodness, he had found his strength and was coping.

Arnav got out with the last of kids from the bus and looked around. The place was indeed beautiful, flanked by tree forest made up of pine and oak. One by one they got the kids into a circle. The kids were now instructed by Khushi about the camp activities, sleeping and waking times, warnings about their surroundings and the do’s and don’ts. Each kid was then given a whistle and a card with their name written on it in simple English and Braille. The cards were then pinned to their T-shirts by all the volunteers.

While Arnav worked with a set of serious looking teenagers, he looked over at Khushi who seemed to be enjoying herself with little children. Each kid was called over, cards were pinned on their T-shirts and they were given a sweetie and a kiss. The kids seem to love it and hugged Khushi back, with a huge smile on their faces. It made Aranv’s heart constrict when he saw her so happy with children. It made him think of his lonely childhood and he so much wished he had had someone like her with him then.

“Arnav bhaiya, where is my card?” The question asked my one of the giggling girls brought his attention back to his group. He saw Sayaham’s raised eye brow and questioning eyes looking at him and then at Khushi. Arnav smiled at Sayaham and tugged on the girl’s pig tails, “it’s right here missy. If you’d just stand straight, I’ll pin it.”

The girl giggled again as Arnav pinned the card on to her T-shirt. He was no good when it came to being touchy-feely with kids and was glad he had teenagers to deal with. Boys at this age didn’t like to be hugged and girls were shy of hugs.

Sayaham came up to him after the children had been served their breakfasts and the activities were about to begin. “Arnav bhaiya, now we will be taking the children swimming. Khushi didi will look after all the girls while you, me and George will look after the boys. It’s difficult to control boys when they’re swimming and feel adventurous as compared to girls in our experience.”

Arnav nodded and grinned at Sayaham, “I comprehend that mate. Let’s go then.”

As they walked up to the kids, Sayaham asked, “You already know Khushi didi from before, don’t you?”

Arnav looked at Sayaham who was all of not more than 20 in astonishment. “Is it that obvious?”

“Khushi did would normally come and supervise you from time to time but she hasn’t come to your aid yet. Is she angry with you?”

“She has the right to be Sayaham. I hurt her and now I’m here to do anything that will get me her forgiveness. Any help you can give will be appreciated.” Arnav put forward his case and smiled.

“Anything that will make Khushi didi happy, I’ll do. If she’s not going to be happy with you, I won’t help you. I know that Khushi di hasn’t been happy since some time so if you can make her happy-” Sayaham declared boldly, though a little hesitantly.

Arnav smiled and put his hand on Sayaham’s shoulder, “You’re a good guy, a good friend. I can assure you your didi loves me but is angry with me. I must gain her forgiveness before I can make her happy again.”

“Okay, I will try to help you when I can.” Sayaham smiled and they shook hands. It was time to work. Soon they were immersed in handling kids. Arnav found it wasn’t easy to control an excited kid and keep him happy at the same time. He had to put a curb on his temper and be patient. But he also realized that he was enjoying himself with these children. He listened to what Sayaham was telling him,

“This exercise is as much for us volunteers as it is for these children. Paying them attention will keep us on our toes at the same time helps us to learn more about them, their behaviour and the activities that will benefit them the most. Nothing to worry about at this stage.”

Arnav glanced at the farther side of the lake where Khushi was with all the girls. A lot of laughter came up from that side which meant that they were all enjoying themselves. Sayaham told him of the activity that Khushi always took up with the girls. Water fights were apparently her way of getting the girls closer and also helping them let their aggression out good naturedly. At the end of an hour, the children were taken back to their tents and a change of clothes was given to all. All the children were supplied by clothing by the camping organization. While the boys were dressed in yellow, the girls were dressed in pink.

The next activity had been to listen to the birds that sang and identify them. While the activity in itself had been fun, Arnav slowly got bored. He didn’t have a ear for the sounds of birds of that kind. He was grinning at the thought when his eyes fell on Khushi who was looking at him. As their glance met, he saw her gaze turn mocking as if telling him he didn’t belong. She was about to turn away when she heard Sayaham, “Arnav bhaiya, you said you were interested in bird watching. Do you know if you want to see the typical wren babbler from her, you should Khushi di to take you into the bushes now. This is the right time of the year when they can be seen. In fact-” He turned to Khushi, continuing, “Khushi di, you should take our new volunteer to do the bird watching now. I think I had seen some wren babblers come that side of the forest a while back.”

George chimed up enthusiastically, “Yes Khushi, do take him. I had an exciting time watching the birds. I think he deserves to watch them too since he’s come from so far.”

Khushi smiled at George while she thought frantically on what she should do. Apart from out-rightly denying not to accompany Arnav anywhere, Khushi could hardly say no. After all, she had done that with George before who had professed an interest in birds. So she nodded and got up. Arnav had a slight smirk on his face as he got up and waited for her to come to him. He knew what she was thinking, drat the man!

“If you want to watch birds, no talking. Don’t make noise when we’re there.” Khushi told him rudely and walked off, leaving a silently amused Arnav walking behind her. As they reached the bushes, Khushi indicated a place close to her, asking him to sit down. Arnav did so and slipped, only to fall against Khushi.

“Watch it!” barked Khushi as she caught his shoulder and helped him. Her slight shiver when his body had touched her hadn’t gone un-noticed by him. So I do affect her big time, thought Arnav, satisfied with the reaction.

He held his breath sitting next to her by the bush. The children were a little further away, playing by the lake and being supervised by the other volunteers. Khushi had come to this side of the forest to catch a glimpse of scaly breasted wren babbler. He had no idea that Khushi liked bird watching. He was starting to think there were many things about her that he had not known before, that were slowly being exposed in front of him. Just how many layers of Khushi were there inside one?

“Arnav look! There they are- scaly breasted wren babbler! Oh, what a sight this is!” Khushi whispered excitedly. She had caught hold of his arm as she pointed to the area a little far away from the bushes they were behind.

Indeed there sat two birds that to Arnav looked like all other birds. One was pecking the ground while the other was doing something to it. He frowned as he whispered in Khushi’s ear, “What are they doing?”

Khushi’s entire body tingled when Arnav spoke in her ear. Her heart beat out of control or so it seemed to her. She put a hand over it and said, “Don’t talk in my ear for heaven’s sake! I can hear you when you whisper.”

“Umm..yes.” Arnav mumbled his mouth still very close to Khushi’s ear. He wanted to kiss her ear but he knew it would be too soon to try and seduce her. He would have to wait until evening. “So what are they doing?”

Khushi tried to gather her wits and after a moment replied, “The one pecking is eating insects off the ground and the other is trying to peck the moss on the ground. They are going to build a nest somewhere. It is mating and breeding season right now.”

“Ah! Mating and breeding season. So they’re going to have babies soon. How many babies can they breed?” Though Arnav’s question seemed harmless, his voice was not. It had gone all husky and deep- aroused. Khushi was trying hard to control her voice. She didn’t want to get out of control and she knew Arnav’s close proximity and his voice was affecting her nerves. Her body wanted nothing more than to get closer to him, to have his mouth on her. NO! She must retain control of this situation. She moved a little away from him, just an inch to give herself some space and said, “They lay 2-5 eggs in every breeding season is what I know. The season is from March to August, they’d have to build a nest before they breed and collect food.”

“Of course, smart birds, these. We should follow their example instead of fighting all the time.” Arnav said and then carried on, I can earn for us and you can make a home for us- for our brood.”

“I don’t want to talk to you any more Arnav. You said you wouldn’t talk about us if I allowed you to come with the group. Don’t go back on your word Arnav Singh Raizada.” Her wobbling voice must have disturbed the birds for they flew off. An upset Khushi walked away from the bushes while Arnav looked on, with a hand at the back of his neck, his eyes closed and sighed. Patience, he should learn more patience!

After the incident, Khushi seemed to avoid him altogether when ever she could help it. At first Arnav was quite irked about her reaction to the entire incident. He wanted nothing more than a full confrontation. But a side of him that was learning patience asked him to bide his time and watch Khushi during this camp. It would help him make plans for later.

By the time three days were over, Arnav had learnt a lot about the organization through the volunteers as well as through children. Some of the children who were regulars and mostly teenagers had their stories to tell which fascinated Arnav. Some even ranted on about their teenage woes to the volunteers. Khushi indulged in such a parley with girls almost all evenings. Evenings were calmly spent, with no camp fire music but with listening to the sounds of the birds and storytelling. A word of encouragement and close counselling as a friend made the children feel better and more self-confident.  During this camp, they were given freedom to roam about within a limited distance; this exercise increased their trust in themselves while group activities helped them learn being responsible for their actions.

It was probably the first time in his life that Arnav let go of his inhibitions and became a child with all the children. While he played with the younger ones, he also indulged teenagers into a good game of baseball. To his astonishment he found, most of them could actually play well. When he asked Sayaham about it, he was informed that the first baseball game had been played some years back. They found the children were very attuned to the sound of the ball and could play well simply on the basis of the sound of the ball.

Arnav was humbled to be a part of such a feeling. It was a lesson to him about how weakness can be turned into strength without being bitter. Blindness was not an issue with these kids; this camp was the place where they forgot their blindness, learned practical skills that would help them in their daily routine and lives as well as developed friendships.

He also found out that apart from such camps, the organization lent hands to these kids when it came to finding a vocation of their choice. While some were very good with words, some had uncanny management abilities; some were more homely and liked to participate in workshop that helped them learn embroidery, sewing, cooking, drawing, etc. Some liked theatre and could act or mimic really well. There were also those who were very good with mathematics and science. The organization was always in need of donations so that they could provide scholarship and training to such talented children. Arnav decided then and there to provide a large donation to the organization and also be a part of it.

He could now admit to himself that he had initially come to this camp with the intention of seducing Khushi. He saw a different side of Khushi during this camp that made him ditch all his plans and go with the gut feeling. The more he found out about her, the more his conscience smote him about doubting her. Gone was Arnav who only wanted to get Khushi back for himself; the one who had been trying to seduce her with his words while they had been bird-watching.

How selfish he had been in thinking he wanted Khushi back only because he loved her. Now he wanted Khushi to come to him by herself, not because he seduced her or only because he loved her. He wanted her to come back because she loved him and couldn’t be happy without him. He would try his damnedest to get her back now more than ever.

For Khushi who spent as much time with children as possible, it was impossible to ignore Arnav when he was so adorable. She tried to keep away from him after the bird-watching incident, letting Sayaham help him most of the times but sometimes, it was impossible. Like when the teenager girl had cried for her broken heart and she had been unable to console her, he had come forward. He had taken her in his arms and comforted her, telling her what a big fool the guy had been. He had been able to calm her down and the next day, he had surprised her yet again by being of assistance to a guy who wished to play the guitar. He kept on surprising her as the days passed by.

Something big and gooey had spread over Khushi when she had seen him playing with little boys and girls. He looked so young and – he looked like he was enjoying himself! Who would believe Arnav Singh Raizada, the business tycoon who was always aloof, who cut people into pieces with his sharp tongue; Arnav who had accused her so unjustly could be like this? Who was this guy who was warm-hearted, a giver, a care-taker and so free with his hugs and his love? He had not even once tried to get her alone, he had not even once tried to seduce her as she thought he would, he had not tried any of the tactics that he normally would. Was this the self-confident Arnav her heart had fallen in love with in reality or had she fallen for that Arnav who had been arrogant and rude- a bad boy literally? Who was to be blamed for her confused heart- herself or him?  Confusion spread over and around Khushi’s mind as she went off to sleep on the third night of the camp.

The last morning of the camp saw them arranging things to be taken back. Khushi was tired and dark shadows showed under her eyes, indicating she had not slept well. She saw Arnav looking at her with concerned eyes but he didn’t demand she tell him what was wrong. Instead he had come to her quietly and asked her, “Are you okay Khushi? Tum theek ho?”

Khushi had smiled, nodded and moved away to talk to Sayaham who called her. Once they put everything in the bus, they all in the bus and left, with Khushi sitting next to Arnav again.

Chapter-13 Pre-cap: Arnav’s begins wooing in the earnest-his humble deeds demanding forgiveness make Khushi want to give in-she remembers their first kiss- the club terrace scene follows.

NOTE: Phew! After a long update like this, I’m going to need rest. :-)) Please make sure you comment or like the post at least when you visit and read. Thanks all! ❤

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair- PRE-CAP Chapter 12

Chapter 12- Pre-cap


He held his breath sitting next to her by the bush. The children were a little further away, playing by the lake and being supervised by the other volunteers. Khushi had come to this side of the forest to catch a glimpse of scaly breasted wren babbler. He had no idea that Khushi liked bird watching. He was starting to think there were many things about her that he had not known before, that were slowly being exposed in front of him. Just how many layers of Khushi were there inside one?

“Arnav look! There they are- scaly breasted wren babbler! Oh, what a sight this is!” Khushi whispered excitedly. She had caught hold of his arm as she pointed to the area a little far away from the bushes they were behind.

Indeed there sat two birds that to Arnav looked like all other birds. One was pecking the ground while the other was doing something to it. He frowned as he whispered in Khushi’s ear, “What are they doing?”

Khushi’s entire body tingled when Arnav spoke in her ear. Her heart beat out of control or so it seemed to her. She put a hand over it and said, “Don’t talk in my ear for heaven’s sake! I can hear you when you whisper.”

“Umm..yes.” Arnav mumbled his mouth still very close to Khushi’s ear. He wanted to kiss her ear but he knew it would be too soon to try and seduce her. He would have to wait until evening. “So what are they doing?”

Khushi tried to gather her wits and after a moment replied, “The one pecking is eating insects off the ground and the other is trying to peck the moss on the ground. They are going to build a nest somewhere. It is mating and breeding season right now.”

“Ah! Mating and breeding season. So they’re going to have babies soon. How many babies can they breed?” Though Arnav’s question seemed harmless, his voice was not. It had gone all husky and deep- aroused. Khushi was trying hard to control her voice. She didn’t want to get out of control and she knew Arnav’s close proximity and his voice was affecting her nerves. Her body wanted nothing more than to get closer to him, to have his mouth on her. NO! She must retain control of this situation. She moved a little away from him, just an inch to give herself some space and said, “They lay 2-5 eggs in every breeding season is what I know. The season is from March to August, they’d have to build a nest before they breed and collect food.”

“Of course, smart birds, these. We should follow their example instead of fighting all the time.” Arnav said and then carried on, I can earn for us and you can make a home for us- for our brood.”

“I don’t want to talk to you anymore Arnav. You said you wouldn’t talk about us if I allowed you to come with the group. Don’t go back on your word Arnav Singh Raizada.” Her wobbling voice must have disturbed the birds for they flew off. An upset Khushi walked away from the bushes while Arnav looked on, with a hand at the back of his neck, his eyes closed and sighed. Patience, he should learn more patience! 

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair- Chapter 10

Chapter 10

A week after the entire incident saw Khushi in a completely different mode. She was deeply immersed in a conversation with some friends. They were sitting in the canteen, planning and making arrangements for the camp. Khushi was an active member of an association that participated in social service activities. Summer was the time of the year when one could see all types of activities happening in and around Nainital for various social causes. Khushi attended the blind kids summer camp every year as a volunteer although very few of her Delhi friends knew that.  She acted as mentor to the new volunteers and guided them on how to help children who came to the camp for mental, physical and spiritual enjoyment. It seemed as if  the planning was coming to a close as they all got up and shook hands with each other.

Khushi smiled at one of the guys and said, “I’m sure you’ll be very happy when we’re back and feel as if you’ve done something constructive this holiday. As you have already heard from others, it will be our job to ensure that the kids learn about their hidden, undeveloped talents and try to develop it. It is our job to actively help them develop self-confidence. Some of them are weak physically because they don’t get out much. We have to develop their physical vigour. You being a certified fitness teacher, I’m sure you’ll do a great job towards the last one.”

The guy smiled at her, a kind smile though sadness lurked in his eyes, “I hope to God I am able to be of help. I wish I had known of this earlier. I may have been able to help-“

“There is no point in looking back George. “What if” and “if only” don’t help us move on further in our lives. You’ve made the right choice by joining the summer camp this year as a volunteer. You’ll be amazed by how brave and smart these kids are. I’ll see you the day after tomorrow in the morning with 10 children. Be ready!” Khushi put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it lightly. She smiled and started walking. The guy who was standing within the circle, talking to another guy moved forward to walk along with her.

“So Khushi didi, as usual, Sat tal is the final destination, right? I should speak to Hari and make arrangements for the tents and he stay?”

“Yes Sayahm, please do. Tell Hari I’m looking forward to seeing him again. If you have any questions, call me at home, okay? I’m off home.” Khushi informed him and waved every one goodbye.

Arnav thought about Khushi while he sat in his office in New Delhi. Things had not gone as well as he’d expected during his visit to Nainital. Of course, he should’ve known that Khushi being the stubborn creature she was wouldn’t forgive him easily but he was ready to do anything to get back in her good books. He knew he would have to work hard towards gaining her trust but first, he would have to work out a plan so that he could spend more time with her.

He thrust a hand in his gelled hair, making it untidy as he sighed, loosened his tie and opened the first two buttons of his vest. He was restless and the only thing he wished for was to get back to Nainital; to get back to Khushi.  His eyes were blood shot as if he hadn’t slept well in the last couple of days, which truthfully he had not.

Every time he tried to sleep, there were memories that kept coming back. Memories of how he had first fallen in love with Khushi, the time they had spent together and of the days before and after the engagement. Nightmares of Shyam molesting Khushi while he had stood aside blaming her haunted him. His remorse made his moods black every time he thought about it. How cruel he had been to her and how he had stupidly and carelessly thrown away the only thing in life that he had ever achieved for himself — Khushi and her love for him. He gritted his teeth and banged his hand on the table.

He had come back to Delhi the day after Mallika’s engagement due to work and meetings pressure. Now that he’d cleared his diary for the next fortnight, he had instructed his PA to hold back all the important decision making projects that would need his presence or signature by a month and delegated the semi-important projects to Aakash and the rest of his management team. He was now free to woo his love-Khushi.

A smile started at one corner of his mouth and slowly widened when he thought about his plans to stay in Nainital for a month. She wouldn’t be able to resist him, no she won’t.  If he closed his eyes, he could still smell her hair, he could still taste her lips and – he opened his eyes and flinched. He could still see her eyes and the tears in them, the hurt that he had put there, the distrust. Pain stabbed at his heart. He had put that distrust, that pain and those tears in her eyes. He could still see the shock and hurt she felt the day he had told her he didn’t really love her. Of course, she should have seen it for the lie it was, but then they were riding on emotions that evening. He could forgive her for thinking ill of him when he had behaved like an absolute bastard that he was.

He shook his head to dispel these thoughts away. He would win her back; he would win her love back. In fact he was sure she loved him still, just as much as he loved her. Beneath all the hatred and fights, there was love that bloomed like rose in their hearts. He spoke regularly with Mrs Gupta senior and Payal to get information on how Khushi was faring in the last week. He had already found out that Khushi was going to be away camping for a week. It had come as a surprise to him that in the 9 months that he had known Khushi, he had not known of the volunteer work she carried out for several charities, including the one in Nainital. His Khushi certainly had a heart of gold.

The phone’s insistent ringing broke his thoughts. He picked it up and barked, “Yes?”

“Sir, your sister in on the line and insists she must speak to you immediately.” His PA informed him.

“Put her through.” Arnav smiled as he thought about his Anjali di. She was another gem of a woman that shone like a beacon of love in his life. Anjali was a double major in English and history and currently engaged to her long-time boyfriend Dean.  They both worked together in Royal Holloway, University of London as professors. Anjali taught history while Dean worked with the Department of Modern Languages, Literatures & Cultures.

“Chhotte!?” Anjali’s calm voice penetrated Arnav’s surroundings while he put it on speaker. A smile lit his face at hearing the voice of his beloved sister.

“Hi Di. How’s it going?”

“All is well here Chhotte. How are you? You sound exhausted.”

“Di, I’m fine. Had a lot of work to finish before I –“

“Did you meet Khushi Chhotte? You told me the last time we spoke that you knew of her whereabouts now and planned to meet her.”

Arnav sighed over the phone, “Yeah Di, I did. I met her.”

“And- Do I have to extract it out of you? What happened? Did she speak to you? Did you try to explain your side of the story? Not that she’d forgive you that easily but –“

“How you do love your pound of flesh!”

“Arnav Singh Raizada, mind your manners!”

“Sorry di, but yes, you’re right. She says she can’t forgive and forget what happened. She refuses to see me anymore or speak to me anymore Di.”

“Chhotte. I’m sorry to hear that. Really. But you’re not going to quit persuading her, are you? You – you love her Chhotte?”

Arnav closed his eyes as he placed his head gently on the table. He couldn’t seem to hide his feelings for Khushi from Anjali. “Yes Di. I feel very strongly for her. I am not going to let her go.”

Anjali smiled at the other end. “Sacche pyaar ki raah hamesha se mushkil rahi hain Arnav. Uspar chalna sabke bas ki baat nahi hain. (The path to true love is not easy Arnav. Not everyone can walk this path.) You have be willing to leave your ego aside and do whatever it is that your love wants you to do. Are you ready to go through it?”

Arnav rolled his eyes. Anjali di and her dramatic dialogues! “I don’t know about all that Di. All I know is that I am not going to let her go. I was a fool to ever have doubted her and I’m going to do everything it takes to make things right between us.”

“My blessings are with you my brother. Dean wants to talk to you. Hang on.”

A man’s voice came over the phone. His voice sounded deep and husky as he spoke over the phone to Arnav, “Hi Arnie, how are things shaping up up in yoga land? Anjali tells me you’re trying to convince Khushi to forgive you. Is that right?”

Dean Winchester was probably the only man on this planet that Arnav was comfortable with. Dean was older to Arnav by five years but they shared an amazing rapport. With Dean he joked, laughed and had even shared some fun times as a playboy. Though Dean was into academics, he was gorgeous and totally fun, not like the stuck up prigs geeks normally were. They were long –time friends and when Dean fell in love with Anjali, Arnav was only too happy to accept Dean into his family.  Dean could hear the smile in Arnav’s voice when he said, “Yeah, if she’ll have me back again.”

Dean laughed, “I owe you the biggest “I told you so” dude.”

Arnav laughed too. “Too right but I’m going to make sure she falls for my charm this time around again. I’m not going to lose her Dean. I can’t.” He picked up the bottle of water kept on his desk and took a gulp.

“I sure hope you’re telling me the truth. I mean if she ever doubts your word, tell her I sent her a message. Tell her I said, “He’s really sorry sweetheart and means it when he says sorry. He’s got more conscience any day than I did before Anjali. I mean as a young punk, he felt guilty searching the Internet for porn.”

“Dude!” Arnav choked on water, only to hear Dean laugh and say, “Here’s Anjali again. You take care. Cheers!”

Anjali came back on the phone.  “What’s he laughing about? Anyway, we are planning to go out this evening so I need to get ready. You take care, okay? Eat on time and don’t moon around.” Anjali said while a man’s voice in the background asked her to hurry up.

“Say Hi to Dean from me di. You guys enjoy the evening. I’ll take care of myself. Tomorrow am going to Nainital for a fortnight. Hopefully I’ll have something good to tell you the next time. ”

Arnav hung up after exchanging good byes, a smile stuck on his face. He felt refreshed after talking to Dean and his di. He was ready to get, set and go.

The evening before Khushi was supposed to leave for the camp in the morning saw her walking Sophie in the garden. The weather had turned especially chilly this evening and Khushi kept on rubbing her hands over her arms to warm herself. She was simply loitering with no agenda of the next morning in her mind. Instead her mind was occupied with the only man who – well, the only man who had ever made a place in her thoughts was Arnav. Much as she hated to admit to herself, she couldn’t help but remember him. His kiss had brought back memories of their time together, the day when she accidentally bumped into him at the National Gallery of Modern Art on Dr. Zakhir Hussain Road in New Delhi.

NOTE: 

My original intention had been to include flashback history of Arnav-Khushi and the summer camp happenings, however when I started writing the chapter, things changed.

Due to the fact that I needed to give Anjali her space in the storyline, this chapter has been kept short. Couldn’t help but add one of my other favourite characters of the TV world. 😛 Trust you enjoyed this part of the story. Chapter 11 comes tomorrow with sole focus on Khushi and Arnav.

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair- Chapter 9

This chapter is a stepping stone to the future and the explanation of the cause of separation of Arnav and Khushi. I have not proofed it so please ignore any typos that may have been included. 🙂 Flashback dialogues are in italics.

Chapter-9

Try as she might, Khushi could not wipe the touch of his hands, of his lips from herself once she was back home and in the shower. She was crying and cursing as she scrubbed herself again in the last two days. Every part of her tingled and screamed for release that was not going to come.

At Negi house, she had laughed and smiled with every one till her face felt like it would crack under pressure. Her eyes darted around in the room, looking for that one person who had made her putty in his hands but she couldn’t find him anywhere. NK had cornered her once and asked her if she was okay. He could make out she was distressed, he said. This had put Khushi’s senses on red alert. If NK could visibly see her distress, so would her grandmother. And the reason will be then asked. What could she say then? No, it was not possible for her to share her feelings with anyone at this time. She had to put on her happy-go-lucky face to fool every one. She bluffed her way out, teased NK on his engagement and thwarted his thoughts successfully.

Payal had come up to her once to ask her if all was okay and she had smiled brightly. She was not sure if Payal believed her happy face but hell, she had to do something! Thankfully, Payal had kept quiet and simply asserted that they should leave soon. Mercifully, Mrs. Gupta was of the same opinion and so they had left soon after. Of Arnav there was no sign.

Khushi came out of the shower and sat down beside the dressing table. She looked at herself in the mirror. Taking out the lenses and putting the glasses back on, she made a face at herself. She needed to stop eating so much out of stress. Soon she may acquire a double chin if she was not careful. Close to that thought, erupted a giggle that turned into hysterical laughter. She couldn’t seem to stop herself from laughing. She laughed hard until tears started in her eyes and then she couldn’t seem to stop crying.

She lunged onto the bed and buried her face in the pillow while her body was being racked with sobs. When it felt as if there were no more tears left, she got up and drank a glass of water. This would simply not do! She couldn’t break down like this for that swine! She lay down on the bed again. Sleep was far off and memories of their time spent together very close. Though she tried hard to shut her thoughts off, her mind and her heart were locked in a battle.

How could she forgive Arnav so easily? Now that he knew the truth, he had come forward with remorse and guilt in his heart. She couldn’t forgive him for all that he had said to her. How could she? He had not just insulted her character, bruised and shattered her heart that evening, he had torn her soul apart from her body; he had actually told her that he’d never even loved her! How could she ever even contemplate of going back to a man who had never even loved her? His words and his actions kept on reverberating in her mind from their last encounter in Delhi.

He had seen her and Shyam in Khushi’s room, on her bed. Shyam had been trying to force himself on her and she had been pushing him off. She had pulled his hair, tried to kick him and slap him. Shyam had gone absolutely crazy when she tried to slap him. Next he kept a hand on her mouth that suffocated her and shushed her screams. Her other hand had been cruelly twisted, placed under her own body, rendering her movements futile.

Pain had her crying and screaming in agony. He had then spoken, told her in detail how he was planning to defile her being, how he had been obsessed by her since many years and how Arnav’s endearing himself to her had cut him to pieces. Knowing he intended to rape her had scared her shitless and made her struggles harder. He had already torn her dupatta off her body and had been trying to-

Khushi’s entire body shuddered in disgust as she remembered what she had gone through. It could have been worse had the door suddenly not burst open and had Arnav not dragged Shyam off her. His eyes had spelled murder that evening. He had punched Shyam in the face, punched him again and again until he rendered him unconscious.

Khushi had been frozen by the events. Things couldn’t have gone more wrong when she upped and walked away in her frozen state into the bathroom, locking herself in.  The confrontation that had followed the next evening had not just broken her engagement but also her heart into a million pieces.

“I do not want a woman who thinks it is fair to play the field, that I will allow her to sleep with another while I’m away. Had you played your cards right, I might have married you since I lust after your delicious body but now I know I don’t need to. I can have you without tying myself to you. If he wants you, he can have you AFTER I do.”

“So you only lust after my delicious body as you put it, you don’t love me?” Khushi spoke with a calm that belied the storm raging inside of her.

“Love is a word that shouldn’t be uttered by a cheap characterless girl like you Khushi. I may not believe in it but I know many who do and respect them for their sentiments. I was fond enough of you. We could’ve had a good relationship. We had been madly attracted to each other. We could’ve made do with it had you waited for two more months until our wedding. But I guess girls like you can’t wait with their huge sexual appetites.” His words were full of scorn and hatred.

Khushi refused to look at him lest she saw disgust in those eyes she loved. Turning herself away, she walked a little further ahead before, “And once you’d have tired of it? What would you have done with me then Arnav?” she heard herself ask as if it was a normal conversation, as if they were talking about someone else, not her.

“Divorce is easy. You would have received as much as you deserved. I would have given you generous alimony and –“

“-And kicked me out of your life.” Khushi smiled bitterly. A part of her soul faced death with each statement made by Arnav. Her dreams were being ruthlessly trampled upon by the one man she had declared her allegiance to, by that one man whom she had fallen deeply in love with. Her heart froze in her chest and her brain kicked into gear. What would she do now? What would her parents think of her? How will the society react? What about her future? As thoughts crowded in her mind, her anger grew.

She heard Aranv speak, “I was wrong in thinking I could marry you and possess you. You seem to be an old player in the field of pleasures of the flesh.”

Her anger erupted at this point, her heart refusing to listen to any more venom that may be spouted by this man. She turned around to face him, her eyes spitting fire.

First of, I’m not a THING to be possessed Arnav Singh Raizada! I’m a woman and I have the right to do whatever I want. And this is your opinion of me? You think I’m promiscuous? You who has slept with Lord knows how many women, you who is considered to one of the famous playboys of London? Don’t make me laugh Arnav. You’re the last person in this world who should talk about loose character. How many hearts have you yourself ruthlessly broken, do you even know the count? Arnav Singh Raizada, I will one day marry the man of my choice; a man who will love, trust in me- a man who will not think of me as his possession and will not be just fond of me.”

Arnav started to say something but Khushi stopped him with the motion of her hand. She continued, “After hearing your opinion of me today, I don’t want to spend a second longer in your disgusting, sick thinking company. This engagement is off. You should’ve checked your facts before going ahead with your mud-slinging Raizada. So much for being a big tycoon who thinks logical and with his head! There will come a day when you realize the truth and that day I hope to God you suffer as much as I did today, knowing what a prize fool you have been and how unjust!”

She had thrown the only gift she had ever accepted from him; her engagement ring at his feet and walked off with her head held high. He had stood his ground, not moving an inch, like an ice statue while he watched her walk away. The tears had come when she had walked far enough for him to be not able to see her.  

The day after the next, she had explained what she could to her shocked parents and left for Nainital.

The tears that had stopped a while back fell down her cheeks when she remembered her leaving her parents in a muddled state of mind and coming to Nainital. She had only just started making peace with herself. Why did Arnav have to come now? How could he think they could take up from where they’d left off and forget everything that had happened in between?

Khushi resolutely wiped her tears and shook her head. No. she wouldn’t go back to him. She may be able to forgive him once but without love, without the proof that he loved her for real and not just desired her, she would never go back to him. She switched off the light and shut her eyes determinedly.

Precap:

Chapter 10:

Camp for blind kids-Khushi accompanies kids as a volunteer- Arnav follows-flashback of Arnav-Khushi clashing in national gallery of modern art during a friend’s exhibition- Arnav’s first pangs of jealousy and his dismissal of it-first near-kiss.

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair- Chapter 8

Chapter 8 : A scene from this chapter has been dedicated to Monnie Singh Raizada. 🙂

Khushi and Mallika were enjoying the aftermath of the engagement party. The engagement had gone off without a hitch. Punditji had done his job with the prayers and among other things, rings were exchanged between NK and Mallika. Their parents had embraced each other and gifts had been exchanged between both the parties. Khushi, dressed in a red sari with golden border and decked with gold earrings dangling from her ears and a necklace sitting pretty on her neck was a sight for sore eyes. Her red bangles made a jingling sound as if spreading cheerfulness where ever they jangled with her anklets adding sweet music to it. The sari gave her face a pink glow and minimal make up of a red gloss and kohl around her eyes made her look beautiful, totally rubbishing the idea that she could look plain. She had at Mallika’s request left her glasses behind and worn lenses.

While quivering inside with anxiety, she was outwardly calm and smiling. She had not seen Arnav anywhere around yet. Maybe he had left?

Just when she started relaxing, she caught sight of him. He was dressed as usual, in his impeccable suit, his eyes focused on the person he was talking to. He looked handsome as ever. Her skipped a beat as she looked at him. He didn’t look out of place and seemed quite comfortable with people around him. Just then he smiled at the lady he was talking to and Khushi felt her heart flutter. She turned away from him, clutching her sari to her chest.

“Khushi” It was softly spoken but raised the hair on her arms. The voice was so close to her ears. She didn’t dare turn around. She quickly strode away before he could say anything else.

Arnav started moving forward. He hated it when Khushi walked away from him. In all these months, this was another constant that hadn’t changed. He moved towards her and she’d run away. He swore he’d soon put an end to it.

But as he started moving towards where Khushi had walked away to, he felt a hand on her shoulder, “Arnaavv, where are you moving off to? They’re going to play the band soon. I want to dance with you.”

It was Shruti Negi, Mallika’s younger sister. Anrav turned around to find Shruti smiling like a shark at him. She was very provocatively dressed with a single strap holding her blouse from behind. Bare back and barely enough cloth to cover her front, draped with a pink gauze and net sari around her body, Shruti sure looked pretty tempting. But for Arnav, she was as interesting and desirable as a lifeless statue. Shruti leaned onto him, brushing her chest against his and whispered in his ear, “Maybe after a dance or two, we can move to the garden. What say?”

Arnav moved away from her hand, with enough ice in his eyes to freeze the blood in her veins. His smile was polite and dismissing. “I don’t dance Ms. Negi. You’d best find yourself another amusement for the evening.”

Shruti’s eyes widened at his cold voice. Her smile faltered, her practised poise gone. She straightened, with blush covering her cheeks. “Sorry, I thought maybe-“

Arnav sighed. Young girls had to be handled with care, especially when they were future business associates’ daughters, “No problem. A simple case of miscalculation of interest is what happened. You look very pretty and I’m sure there’ll be a lot of men who’d love to dance with you. Good luck.”

He moved away and turned to the bar. Ordering himself a stiff drink, he wondered where Khushi had disappeared off to. He couldn’t see her in the room. Gulping down his drink in one go, he thanked the bartender and went out of the party room that opened out to the lobby of the house.

He walked further out and saw Khushi. She was sitting with Mallika and other girls, who were giggling while Mallika blushed. Girl jokes, he was sure were being cracked. Khushi though had a strained smile on her face as she participated in this girl talk. She was sitting with her head down, playing with the end of her sari and biting her lip softly. His Khushi and her traits were well known to him. He was sure she was trying to think of a way to get out of there. Payal sat along with them, laughing with the other girls and talking animatedly. Her laughter died abruptly as she saw Arnav coming towards the group. She looked at Khushi, anxiety for her sister written plain on her face.

Khushi had closed her eyes and was holding on to her sari tightly; she knew he was here. Her heart beat had suddenly gone into over drive. He was the only one who had that effect on her. Mallika’s voice rang out as enthusiastic and cheerful, making Khushi flinch. “Arnav, hey!”

Arnav looked at Mallika and smiled while the other girls looked at him too. A gasp from some girls broke the silence. Obviously, thought Khushi. Arnav Singh Raizada effect was taking hold of them so they would gasp. She opened her eyes to look straight into his glittering amber ones.  She shivered at the amount of want she saw there- and determination.

“Hi Mallika. Congratulations once again on your engagement. Lovely party.” Arnav came forward towards them. Khushi looked at the other girls with scorn. She could see awe written their faces, their mouths open and eyes wide. What was it about this guy that turned all girls silly?

“Come meet my friends.” Said Mallika and proceeded to introduce everyone around. When it came to Khushi and Payal, she gestured at Payal and said, “She’s Payal Singh- hey you guys share the same surname! She is Payal Singh Raizada!  She is married and lives in Delhi. And this is her sister, Khushi; my best friend Khushi.”

Mallika grinned and her jaw dropped when Payal said, “ Arnavji is my brother-in-law Mallika.”

“I had no idea. Papa never told me that! ” Mallika’s eyes went wider as if a sudden thought occurred to her. “So you know Khushi too.”

“Of course.” Arnav inclined his head towards her as he looked at Khushi. “Don’t we now each other Khushi?”

Khushi had no choice but to speak. Her voice was a mere croak, “Yes. Hello Arnav.”

“Why don’t you sit down with us Arnav and tell us how you like Nainital. Is this your first visit here?”

Khushi looked at her friend; Neha who had invited Arnav in her simpering, husky voice to join them. She ground her teeth in frustration. Oh for heaven’s sake! She’d always hated Neha’s simper and her attempt to seduce boys with her voice. And here she was doing it with Arnav! There was nothing that she could do about it though so she lowered her eyes and looked down as other girls joined in the request.

Arnav was actually enjoying this. Khushi looked flustered, blush rising on her cheeks, her annoyance apparent to him. This should be fun. How about rousing that not-so-little green monster in her? He sat down and zeroed in on the girl who had invited him. What was her name- ah yes! Neha.

“I like Nainital very much Neha. All the more so since everything here is so beautiful. In fact, I think I will stay here for one extra week and spend time looking at beauty around here.”

It was the way he said it that finally loosened Khushi’s tongue. She lashed out, “Be careful while straying away from the city Arnav. There are lots of animals around here who wouldn’t spare you if you mistook their gentle demeanour as timid when you wander.   You’d want to return to London in one piece.”

And almost groaned out aloud as another friend spoke up, “Oh wow, London!  You live in London? You don’t live in India then?” Another one spoke up, “NRI Munda hain Neha. Are you married Arnav?”

Arnav’s eyes met hers amidst all others. He wanted to grin at her annoyance but kept his expressions in check. “I used to live in London until a few months back. I’ve moved to India now. I live in Delhi. And no, I’m not married…yet.”

Khushi glanced at Payal questioningly and then away. What did it matter to her where he lived now or if he was thinking about – what did he mean anyway with married not yet? Khushi shook herself mentally. It shouldn’t matter to her. It didn’t matter at all.  He could live in Timbuktu and marry the Princess of Norway for all she cared.

Arnav could feel heat rising from Khushi’s being. He could see her trying hard to control her temper and her breathing. He decided to make it more difficult for her. His question to Neha, who sat listening to him with a look of pure lust on her face, startled Khushi, “Have you ever been to Delhi Neha? If not, you can come there sometime and I’ll show you around.”

Khushi closed her eyes and tried to control her temper. She could feel the green monster rising from the depths of her being, his hunger apparent. Khushi felt a knot in her stomach as she realized what she felt.  She was horrified at a merest mention of him being interested in someone else could cause such a fierce pang of pain in her heart and bring her to boiling rage. She couldn’t do that to herself, she didn’t want to feel this burning jealousy that slowly seemed to be enveloping her soul.

Without putting her mind to it, she heard the conversation being carried out, where Neha pouted, visibly fluttering he eyelashes, making eyes at Arnav and said, “So you’d show me around in Delhi, huh? But I don’t know anyone in Delhi. Where would I put up?”

He replied, his voice seducing the girls surrounding him, “Well, now you know me. I have a big house with lots of rooms. Maybe you’d like to stay there. It would be fun. “

“Uhh..” totally flustered, Neha looked around and saw that the other girls were looking at this Arnav guy with the same lust that she felt. It was all a matter of staking claim, right? Her eyes were pure evil when she said, “Sure! I’d love to come and stay in your house.”

Mallika seemed totally dazed with the conversation. She cleared her throat, looked at Arnav, mischief dancing in her eyes and said, Er-yes. Goodness Arnav, stop seducing the girls! Waise, it’s a good idea. In fact I’m sure many girls here would want to take up on that offer.”

While they all laughed, Payal looked at Khushi who seemed to be in intense pain. “Khushi?”

“huh? Yes Jiji?” Khushi opened her eyes and looked at Payal.

“Are you feeling alright? You-“ Khushi cut Payal midsentence,

“Yes Jiji, I’m absolutely fine, just a little suffocated. In fact, I think I’ll go inside.” She gave a brilliant smile to Mallika who nodded her assent and without looking at Arnav, walked away from there muttering loud enough for him to hear, “and throw up.”

Arnav watched her go, muttering along the way and smiled to himself. She was nothing if not feisty, yes- that was Khushi Kumari Gupta-soon-to-be-Mrs. Raizada. He just had to wait for his plans to come to fruition and fervently hope that she’d not screw up the plans with her unpredictability.

Khushi walked back into the house, with the party full on and people dancing around. While the young generation had taken up the dance floor, the elder generation had moved to the far side of the room, where comfortable sofas and lounges had been kept. Khushi made a face towards the noise emanating from the room and walked towards where her grandmother sat. She must be there somewhere.

“Khushi, come join us!” Some of the guys from the dance floor called her. “Change your traditional clothes and join us in fun babe.” One of the guys, Gaurav shouted, giving her leering glances. He was an old friend who loved to fool around and was not to be taken seriously. He opened his arms wide and shouted, “Come to me baby!” Khushi laughed and shook her head in denial. She thumbed him down and signalled him a “See you later” to resume walking. She had barely taken two steps when she was held tight by her waist and roughly pushed out of the house again.

Only one man had the guts to do that to Khushi Kumari Gupta. Anger that had been churning in her stomach was ready to spill out. She struggled furiously as he dragged her to the far side of the lobby, next to the swimming pool. All was quiet here, with no one around.
“Let me go, damn you! Get your hands off me Arnav!”

Arnav swivelled her so that she faced him now, her face red from anger and exertion of the struggle while his wild amber eyes sparked with the same emotion.

“How dare you Arnav Singh Raizada! How dare you manhandle me, you bas- “Khushi stopped, horrified with herself and closed her mouth with her hand before she could utter the one profanity that was true in Arnav’s case. She tried turning away from him again and he said, “If you want to call me a bastard, do. It’s only the truth after all.”

Khushi closed her eyes and counted to ten. She couldn’t say that to him. It hurt her just as it would hurt him. But she couldn’t let him have his way either. She was angry after all. She tried pushing his hands away from her waist and spat, “Let me go this instant. I don’t want anything to do with you.”

Arnav wouldn’t let her go of course. He was just as angry as he held her by her waist and dragged her face to face, “Sure, why would you want anything to do with me when there are guys out here you may already be doing with! ”

Khushi looked at him, her shock evident on her face, her struggles ceased for a moment. “You’re a fine one to talk! Who was that who was seducing all the girls with his “Come and stay with me in Delhi” statement?” She mimicked his voice, her eyes flashing fire.

“Jealous sweetheart? You’ve no need to be. ” Arnav caught her closer so that their chests were almost brushing against each other.

“You wish Raizada! It doesn’t bother me in the least.” Khushi spoke quietly. She had stopped struggling now, knowing that her struggles will brush her chest against his and burn her body even more. She hated herself for this pool of desire that was accumulating between her legs at this close contact. She tried to control her wanton thoughts. Closing her eyes, she said, “Flirt with whoever you want Arnav. Just let me go. I’m not interested in spending time in your company.”

“The way you were giving a come-on to that guy on the dance floor, it looks like you’re not short of company here in Nainital.”

Khushi gasped as the meaning of his words sank in. Oh how she hated that mocking drawl of his and– he was actually accusing her of being promiscuous again! Her hand came forward to hit him but was caught mid-air. Chest heaving, they both stared at each other while Khushi laughed bitterly, “Oh yes, double standards are at play again Arnav Singh Raizada! You can flirt with any one you want but I can’t even talk friendly with a guy. No wonder I don’t want anything to do with you anymore.”

He caught at her shoulders gently as regret flooded his being and he mentally kicked himself. What the hell was he doing! He had to be gentle with her, woo her. In his jealous rage, he’d completely forgotten himself and accused her again when she was innocent. Would he never learn?

“Khushi, I’m sorry.” Khushi refused to look at him. “I’m shouldn’t have said that. I just don’t like the thought of you with anyone. I didn’t mean to-“

“It doesn’t matter Arnav. Let me go please.” Khushi’s voice was deathly quiet, tone flat. She moved his hand from her shoulder and made to go. Arnav was having none of it.

He roughly caught her shoulder in his hand and turned her around, “Look Khushi, I’m really sorry, okay? I shouldn’t have said all that. I don’t know what got into me or maybe I do.” he uttered the four letter word that Khushi didn’t really think a man who was apologizing would use in front of her. To top it, he was still holding her, his strong hand gripping her shoulder while she trembled inwardly. All she could do was stare at his shirt buttons and pray “Devi Maiyya please extricate me from this situation. How could you put me in such a- and after all that he had said before and again … please make him let go of my shoulder, NOW.”

While she closed her eyes and prayed to her beloved Devi Maiyaa, Arnav looked at her with something like fury that was replaced quickly with guilt and pain. He was genuinely apologizing; yes, he was at fault again.  Khushi always made him feel a heel. He had never apologised to anyone except to her and his Di. The least she could do was listening to him once and maybe give him a chance, dammit!

He knew he had hurt her bad the last time, when he had called her names and broken the engagement. The day he had uncovered the truth, he had gone through excruciating pain and guilt.  He had realized what a fool he had been by letting go of the only woman that could love him as deeply she did, who could accept him despite his background and his faults; the only woman who made him complete.

His Anjali Di had wiped the floor with him and later on tried to help him find Khushi. He had tried but in vain. As a last resort, he had decided to immerse himself in work and his sorrows in solitude where nothing but happy memories of Khushi stayed put along with the huge stone of guilt around his neck. Had it not been for Khushi’s grandmother calling, he’d have drowned himself in his misery and died.

Hell, he understood her anger and her distrust of him. He was ready to prove himself and earn her trust again if need be. If only she would listen to him!  His confidence took a dipping when he thought about it.

“All she does is close her eyes, hide her pain, her feelings and say that she didn’t want to talk to me!” He swore quietly, thinking to himself. Khushi was not going to let him get into her affections again so easily, was she?

He knew he should let her go but touching her did odd things him; always had. The day they’d almost made love on the club terrace came into his mind and stirred up a fire that refused to go down. He took a deep breath to control his emotions. Why wouldn’t she look at him at least! He was trying to apologize and be a gentleman too.

“Khushi” Her name came out in a warning growl and then, as if things had not yet reached its peak, he took hold of her other shoulder and shook her, “look at me dammit!”

Startled and quaking, Khushi looked up. Maybe he’d let her go now? She thought and then looked at his eyes. His eyes were burning globes of fire.. as if he was the panther about to attack his prey.

“Why do you have to rile me up so much? You always get under my skin dammit! What do you think of yourself Khushi Kumari Gupta? I’ve been standing here saying sorry to you umpteen times and you don’t even look at me! The way you walk, the way you look down your nose at me. It makes me go crazy Khushi!”

Khushi eyes were wide orbs, “I make you go crazy!?” she squeaked and then got her courage back. “How dare you blame me Arnav Singh Raizada, Mr. next-step-to-God! I have done nothing to you, do you hear.. nothing! As if all you accused me of in the past is not enough, you’ve come here to- what you said just now – let me go at once!” Khushi tried to free herself from his hands but they were like iron bands around her shoulders.

“Make me.” His words were menacing and Khushi felt fear curl in her stomach with- excitement? “You glare at me Khushi Kumari Gupta and your mouth gives me the  message “touch-me-not” but ..”

“But what?” Khushi held her breath as her stomach churned with well-known sensations, sensations she thought she had lost months back. She was panicky and confused. What was he trying to say?

“But your eyes say something different. He leaned into her, “Do you know something sweetheart? The more your mouth says no, the more I want to touch you.”

His words, softly spoken made Khushi’s stomach drop somewhere in her shoes. What did he just say? Arnav couldn’t possibly want her! No, he couldn’t desire her at all!  Not after all that had happened! He had been cruel to her, he had mocked her, made fun of her; he had told her that she was promiscuous, crazy, comical and absolutely not worth his time’ that her body disgusted him.

And yet, when Khushi looked into his eyes, she could see the fire blazing high, the inferno of want burning for her as he leaned into her more, pressing her against the wall, into the darkness where they were away from all; in hiding. He was pressed so close to her that she could feel his taut muscles down the length of her entire body and Good God- that surely wasn’t!! She gasped as her eyes looked down and then flashed back up at him, her voice a mere whisper, “Let me go.. please.”

“I know I treated you bad just now, downright rotten in fact. But I am apologizing for it. Had I not dragged you away from there, I’d have been tempted to do this again and again right there by the dance floor, in front of all others who were lusting after you, until I was sure you couldn’t remember your own name much less any of them.”

Instant shock held her rigid as both his hands came around to cup her face. She moved her head to one side but he would have none of it. His softly spoken “Khushi” had her turning at him again. She closed her eyes. As his lips touched hers; gently at first and then swooping down again and again, sipping her taste from her lips, Khushi felt herself melting in his arms. No more did she want to wriggle away from him, not this time.

“Khushi…” Her name was a desperate moan as Arnav’s mouth began taking firm possession of hers, the gentle kiss turned into an act of possession. A sensation so incredible that Khushi felt she was floating in the air took hold of her. Her hands grabbed his shoulders for support as her knees buckled with this sensuous onslaught. This was- was- so good. She met his move with her own, her heart beating a tattoo in her chest, blood rushing down south as they both gave in to this incredible, inexplicable need for each other. Khushi felt as if a potent narcotic drug had been injected in her veins and if she didn’t find relief soon, she’d die. Her skin felt so hot, she felt so hot! She wanted to simply eat him up or hold on to him and never let him. She wanted to straddle him right there and let him take her. She loved him —

As though alarm bells had jingled loudly in her ears, she opened her eyes in shock and pushed him away roughly while he was still unbalanced. How could she have fallen in his spell again! She had to get out of here.

He seemed to be dazed and shocked just as she was, although she doubted if he was dealing with the kind of emotional upheaval that she was dealing with.
“I- I- good bye!” her voice was a hoarse whisper and she turned and ran away from him. She didn’t dare look back to see the kind of expression his face may hold.

Khushi could feel herself trembling an hour later even after she reached the safety of other ladies in the women’s parlour and was sitting beside Mallika. Punditji was looking for the good muhurat for the wedding to take place in the next two weeks since NK had to go back to Sydney. While everyone around her was talking, Khushi was in her own thoughts. Oh my goodness gracious everything under the sun. Her lips still tingled and her body was still on fire. She wept inside with rage, frustration and desire. Humiliation burned deep within her along with those other emotions. How could she have done what she did — responded so ardently! How could she have forgotten what he’d accused her of, what he’d thought of her, what he still could readily accuse her of!

Arnav sat with the other men, his mind a million miles away- or maybe simply in the other room where Khushi sat with other women. He had walked back a few minutes after she’d ran, trying to compose himself. His body had been shaking with undisguised, unfulfilled lust as well as disgust for himself. So much for attempting to talk to her, woo her!

He wanted to turn around, forget about the niceties, barge into ladies’ parlour, carry Khushi away somewhere to begin anew. He’d woo her and make her trust him again. But then common sense took hold of him. He picked up a glass of wine from the tray of the waiter passing by and drank it in one gulp. He picked up another and prowled back into the room where other guests were. He had enough time and this time, Khushi was going nowhere. He had her exactly where he wanted her. He knew she desired him and perhaps a part of him hoped that she still loved him, but he wouldn’t go as far as that. Time enough to make her fall in love with him again even if she hated him now. He resolved silently. Khushi Kumari Gupta, you can enjoy your friend’s wedding. It will soon be your turn next.”

FF: Ordinary Girl in an Extraordinary Affair- Chapter 7

Chapter- 7

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.