Khushi sat waiting for Shyam at her favourite cafe that evening, while her mind still turned over Payal’s words. Why did Payal think that she, Khushi Gupta could ever fall in love with an arrogant arse like ASR?
She shook her head vehemently in denial, almost spilling coffee from the mug in her hand. The idea itself was mental. She could never fall for a man who had not even an ounce of humility in him. He was – he was-
“An espresso please, double shot. ” The deep dark voice raised the hair at the back of her neck. Trying to reject the voice in her head that said it knew who the voice belonged to, her eyes opened wide with shock as Arnav sat down in the chair next to her and grinned wolfishly.
“I had not thought of you as a coffee drinker, Khushi Gupta. You sound like you would drink gallons of tea, not coffee. “
Her eyes drank in his grinning face- he looked so devastatingly handsome when he smiled!- and then his words registered. More to the point, his presence by her side registered as she came out of her daze. Her doe eyes sparkled with annoyance.
Arnav saw the moment Khushi’s expression changed and his eyes lit up at the expectation of fireworks. He loved it when she looked ready to spit fire, the passion of her feelings plain on her face. He didn’t have long to wait.
Khushi’s chest swelled with quiet indignation. His eyes rested briefly on the heaving chest and then moved to her eyes. They were now furious at his blatant display of interest.
“How dare you! “Khushi spoke with her mouth barely moving. “What the hell are you doing here Mr Rothwell ? “
“I have been called here, by your – who is he anyway? Is he your associate or your friend?”
Khushi refused to calm down. With gritted teeth, she asked, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but you had better leave. I have a meeting and I am not going to waste my energy talking to you. “
“Of course. ” Arnav was brisk, his eyes sharp. He accepted his cup of espresso with a polite smile at the waitress, that seemed to turn her into a silly mush. Fluttering her eyelashes, she asked him if he wanted any sugar.
“He is diabetic. No sugar, thank you.” Khushi spat dismissal at the waitress, who went away with a scowl on her face. Looking straight back at ASR, Khushi said, “Did you hear what I said Mr Rothwell Raizada? Leave.”
“You’re pretty adorable when you’re all fire like this. “Arnav observed amusedly, and then huskily added, “Most of the times, I can’t wait to burn with you.”
Khushi had no reply for such a statement. She sipped her coffee and pointedly looked at her watch. Arnav finished his mouthful of espresso and wiped his mouth with a serviette, calming informing her, “Don’t be mad at me. I didn’t come here myself. I was called by your photographer associate, Shyam. “
Her jaw dropping, Khushi retorted, “Shyam? My Shyam called you?”
“Your Shyam? ” Arnav’s eyes caught fire at her reference to Shyam as hers. He was annoyed.
His entire day had been a pain, so why should he be surprised if evening was the finale of all that he found irksome. He had decided to work from home this morning. His morning had begun with Anjali teasing La at the breakfast table. By noon, La had become decidedly panicky, coming to him with the request that he make things clear to his family. She was terrified they would marry her to him tomorrow if they had their way. Highly tickled by her imagination, Arnav had assured her nothing of the kind would happen. She ought to take the teasing in her stride and be indifferent. After all, she wanted the pretence of being his girlfriend to save her pride. But La had been unable to handle things. Post lunch, she had excused herself with the excuse of a prior meeting with an old friend and got out of the house.
Arnav had breathed a sigh of relief as Anjali had turned her attention to her own wedding matters, and he had finally been able to focus on his work. Things had just settled down, when Shyam called. He had been polite and straight to the point.
“Hi Alex, I would like to meet you this evening. Is it possible?” Shyam had asked politely.
Arnav had observed, “A bit sudden, isn’t it? “
Shyam had been just as adamant, “I’ll agree, it is a bit sudden but imperative. I would appreciate it if you could come to the India Cafe this evening. Khushi will also be there.”
Arnav had tensed at her name, and in a split second made his decision as an unsavoury thought had entered his head. His entire being had rebelled at the idea. As he remembered the thought that had prompted him to come here without a second’s hesitation, his annoyance at his own behaviour grew. He looked at Khushi and suddenly he said, “I might as well tell you since I know you will not tattle tale. I think it is time I got married.”
Khushi looked at him, going pale at his words. ASR planning to get married? To Whom? Or was he simply saying that to annoy her? Well, she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. With mighty effort, she ignored his declaration and ploughed on, “Why has he called you here?” Then muttered to herself, ” Is he planning to warn you off in front of me or something? “
Arnav’s mind, that had seconds ago been amusing itself at Khushi’s instant reaction and efforts at non-reaction to his statement, was now outraged at this muttered suggestion. How could anyone warn him off Khushi? Khushi was — and he stopped the thought in his head. He liked annoying her, flirting with her. He had already admitted to wanting her badly. Khushi was his — The point was, she was not for Shyam.
Khushi, unaware of his internal debate continued muttering to herself, “I must talk to Shyam. He has been a bit odd lately, but I simply thought it was due to his preoccupation with–.”
“Still talk to yourself, do you? Old habits die hard. ” an amused Arnav drawled lazily, stretching in the chair. “I can’t wait to hear what milk toast man has to say to me.”
Khushi choked on her coffee “Milk toast man? You are calling Shyam a milk toast man?”
ASR shrugged his shoulders, “What else would I call a man who has been playing with fire recently, but is not able to take the heat?”
“What fire? What heat? What the hell are you blabbering on about ASR?” Khushi snapped, forgetting her intention to stay calm.
She drew back as Arnav leaned forward. Suddenly his eyes were drawn to the door and he took a sharp breath. Khushi saw the change in his face, saw the hardness enter into his eyes and looked at the door too.
Shyam and La had entered the cafe; Shyam with a grim look on his face and La with averting eyes. His gaze zeroed in on Arnav and Khushi and his jaw tightened. They all greeted each other politely. La sat between Khushi and Shyam, her gaze averted from Arnav. Khushi observed this and wondered.
Finally Arnav spoke, “So Jha, what is it you wanted to talk about?”
Shyam put down his coffee and looked at Khushi accusingly, saying “I just wanted to make sure we are all on the same page. You have not trusted me enough as a friend Khushi, or you would have confided your secret in me. ” He sighed deeply, unhappily. Before Khushi could ask him, he raised his hand, “I am not finished yet Khushi. Please don’t interrupt. “
Shyam looked at Arnav and a determination entered his eyes. He said, “La tells me your family spoke to her today about her marrying you. Now is the time Rothwell. You must tell them.”
Khushi’s eyes strayed to Arnav, shock evident in them. Without looking at her, Arnav kept his gaze on Shyam, “Tell them what, Jha?”
At this point, La interrupted both men, looking at Arnav with pleading eyes. His eyes hardened and she averted hers, saying “I am sorry, Alex. I wouldn’t have told Shyam about any of it, had he not told me about his intention to marry her.”
ASR being who he was, didn’t even blink at her declaration of innocence. He simply nodded at her and then looked back at Shyam.
A frustrated exhale, and then Shyam said, “You must tell your family the truth Rothwell. Tell them that La is not your girlfriend, but mine. You must tell them about your engagement to Khushi. “
As Arnav left to go to work with a declaration that they must talk soon, Khushi stomach knotted itself. She so didn’t want to talk to him about the past! She also knew the other things that would crop up during the talks. He had tried talking to her about them last night, and then again early in the morning after they had had the shower, but she had closed her eyes and ears to his speech about security for the boys and herself, and asked him to not spoil the moment.
She knew it would not be long before he would bring up the topic again.
“Khushiji?” Anjali called.
“Yes Di?” Khushi replied automatically, her mind still stuck on Arnav as she finished her plateful of Puri with Potato subzi. She had been overjoyed to see her favourite breakfast made for her by OPji.
OPji had gruffly welcomed her in the kitchen earlier. A man not accustomed to comment on his employers and ever loyal, he had been a source of comfort during tough days five years back. He did suitably frown upon her though, by shooing her out of the kitchen when she’d tried to help, haughtily informing her that she was his mistress, and he was there to serve her. He had also mumbled that it was to be hoped she wouldn’t run away this time. Chastened by the long time servant of the house, Khushi had gotten out of the kitchen then.
Now when he came to collect the dishes, Khushi smiled at him and thanked him for remembering her taste. He cracked what resembled a smile and left her.
“Khushiji?” Anjali called again and Khushi looked around.
Anjali sat with Naniji on the sofa in the living room. Payal seemed to be knitting and all three kids seemed to be talking under their breath about something. Khushi’s brow furrowed as she looked at them. They seemed to be conspiring something! Was it not just a day that they’d met? How could they be so pally? Not that she wasn’t delighted with this development, but — She mused as she went to join the others.
She smiled as she sat down opposite Anjali, who seemed to be browsing a magazine now. Anjali looked up at Khushi and said, “Khushiji, we must prepare for the party. Chhote says he plans to give the party next week, on Tuesday.”
Khushi’s eyes widened, “But Di, that’s too early! I thought it’d be another month or so before he’d throw one.”
Anjali laughed, “Have you forgotten what he’s like? Once an idea gets stuck in his head, he’d not rest until he’s executed his idea.”
Sighing Khushi nodded, “I was foolish to think he’d have changed.” Looking at Anjali’s frowning face, she smiled and said, “Not to worry Di. I’ll ensure he changes his mind.”
Nani ji shook her head sadly, “I don’t think you will be able to change his mind darling. He is quite determined to put an end to all those rumours and saga that began five years back with Aparna’s entry.”
Khushi’s head snapped right at Vishal who was busy with his younger brothers and looked back at Naniji. Mrs. Raizada senior smiled sadly and said, “Yes, Vishal was acknowledged by Arnav long back as his adopted son, but now you must acknowledge his acceptance in front of the society. You have to show people that you accept him as well. Only then will this family be able to live in peace, and Vishal bitwa will get his place in the society. Much as it pains to say it, he still feels left out. ”
Khushi frowned, “Arnav accepted him as adopted son? But naniji he is.. Vishal is Aparna and-“the words stuck in her throat but she carried on bravely, swallowing their poison, “ Aparna and Arnav’s ji son. Why was he not acknowledged accordingly? And I have another question about where Aparna is as well.”
Naniji raised her hand to stop her, and said in a firm voice, “I’m afraid I can’t answer any of your questions regarding that woman’s whereabouts. However I can tell you this- Vishal is not her son. Vishal has been officially adopted from the orphanage where he spent his childhood after his parents died.”
Seeing the bewildering expression on Khushi’s face, Naniji explained with an earnest expression, “Aparna had conspired against Arnav, and forced the child’s hand, Khushi. Granted, during their University days, they had dated but that’s all that had happened. Arnav is no fool to not realize he could have slipped and a child could’ve been born. He had his suspicions earlier on, but it was only after you left that things came into light. He investigated the whole story and found out the truth.”
A huge hole opened up under Khushi’s feet at this news. Trying to refute it, she shook her head vigorously, saying, “No. This is—how can it be possible? I saw the proof myself. I know the truth.”
Her eyes filled with tears as she saw Naniji and Anjali looking at her with a tragic expression. The world blurred into nothing as Khushi went back into her past and remembered the day DNA test results had come in. She had seen the reports, where Arnav and Vishal’s DNA had been claimed as a match.
“Aparna was a cunning woman. She played on our good nature, especially yours and gained entry in the house. It was only after you left and Chhote became inconsolable with your absence, that she started showing her true colours. Khushi ji, let Chhote be the man to tell you how things came out.”
“We spent all these years apart because I believed a lie?” Khushi’s mind boggled at the picture that was emerging.
Anjali squeezed Khushi’s shoulder in sympathy. “We all did believe her, didn’t we? It wasn’t just you. Had it not been for the near tragedy, we’d never have found out.”
Khushi’s hackles rose at the meaning behind Anjali’s words. Almost scared to ask, yet curious, she said, “What near tragedy Di?”
When Anjali looked reluctant to continue, Khushi pressed, “Please Di, you have to tell me. Nahi toh hum abhi Arnav ji ke office jaa kar unse puchenge.”
But Anjali shook her head, tears ever present in her eyes. She looked away, took a deep breath and faced Khushi, “It is best that Chhote tells you about it Khushiji. Come Nani, Mami, Payalji we must prepare lunch.”
All of them rose together, giving Khushi a pitying glance and left for the kitchen, leaving behind a very troubled Khushi.
It was Vishal who roused Khushi from her troublesome thoughts. He laid his head on her lap and closed his eyes.
“Yes my son?” said Khushi, putting one hand lovingly on his head. Aarush and Ayush came to sit beside her and she took them in her arms too.
“Let the past remain where it is; far behind us. I don’t want you and Dad fighting at any time. I hated it when you did that before you left. If you leave this time, I will come with you and my brothers.”
Tears nearly flooded Khushi’s eyes at his words. She bent down and kissed his forehead, saying, “I promise we won’t fight. I will not go away anywhere, son. But I must speak to him. I must know.”
Khushi was impatient to get to their room tonight, Arnav observed with some amusesment. He had already been warned by both Akash and Payal about the conversation that had taken place in the afternoon. Khushi had put on a calm face, but those who knew better were aware that she was in an agitated state. No one had tried to console her or ask her to calm down, he was told, because they all knew it was only Arnav who could do it.
With the boys in bed since long, and dinner with family done, they all sat around eating dessert of gulab jamuns. Arnav was eating his share of sugar free gulab jamuns and finalizing the details about the party with Akash. They had all given their inputs, including Khushi who insisted that food should be Indian- be it Indian or Non-vegetarian. Arnav had seen the happy smile on her face when everyone had agreed, and he’d added that he’d make sure there were panipuri, lassi and jalebi stands.
After a while, Khushi yawned, stood up and said, “Well, I’m tired. I’m not used to keeping late nights anymore.” Looking at Naniji, she said, “We used to sleep at about 9 every night; the kids and I, already close to midnight is half the night of sleep gone for me.”
Payal laughed at this and said, “Khushi, you always did have a penchant for finding ways to sneak off to bed and snore your head off.”
“Jiji!” Khushi sounded offended but smiled at her sister, saying, “I know that I was like that before, but it’s just that—well, after putting a long day at work, I used to be tired and sleep is sweet when there’s dreams waiting.”
“No need to go to sleep and dream about a white knight anymore Khushiji. Just order Arnav and he’ll get your dreams fulfilled.” Anjali winked at Khushi.
Khushi looked up at Arnav and found the lusty fire of his eyes burning her up. She looked down, nervous, “Maybe I can stay up a little longer.”
“Nope. We go to bed now. Good night everyone.” Arnav stood up with that decision, wishing everyone good night, winking at Anjali and Akash as he took Khushi by the arm before she could open her mouth.
Two kids stood by the door of the kitchen, quietly watching the woman making jalebis and muttering to herself. They looked at each other, their expressions identical and grinned at each other, “Looks like Mum is again thinking about us and has stressed herself.”
It was just yesterday when the playschool where both the kids went to had called Khushi. The kids were too naughty, they said. Obviously Khushi being Khushi had shouted them down and told them in no uncertain terms that her sons were angels personified. They couldn’t ever hurt anyone’s feelings. The playschool teacher had warned her that if the kids would continue to be naughty, especially to girls, they would have to be punished.
Both Aarush and Ayush were well aware that the teacher would be doing nothing of the kind. They were their father’s children in that way. One smile and one look from them, a small request made politely worked wonders with the teacher-always! But their mother, Khushi Singh Raizada was unaware of her sons’ abilities.
For once, Khushi was not stressing herself out by thinking about her sons. She stood by the stove, dipping the jalebis into sugar and muttering to herself, “I should have never opened that damn box. I should have simply forgotten what day it was today instead of going into the attic, opening the box and crying my eyes out remembering him. I need to be sensible about everything. Past is in the past and my future—“her eyes misted again as she thought of her sons “-my future lies with bringing up my sons and making them capable and smart—like their father.”
“She remembered the PTA meeting from yesterday and despite herself grinned. Her sons were sure hell to manage but she wouldn’t have them any other way. Charmers and absolutely brilliant. She admitted to herself that she may have behaved a little hot headedly with the teacher but then, which mother could hear her sons being called naughty monsters? She knew they were naughty but they were like-pixies. Naughty and yet possessed a good heart.
She took out the last of jalebis from the pan and turned off the stove. Suspicion had crowded her mind. The house was just too quiet considering the fact that both her sons were at home. Fearing the worst for her work room and the study, she moved out of the kitchen and at first, peeped into the work room. To her relief, everything seemed to be fine. Now for the study where Khushi kept most of her books, her cherished memories of Amma and Babuji as well as Payal and Akash. They were the last of the photos she had of them. The children knew of course who they were, with the exception of their father- a photo she kept hidden from them at all times, in her study table drawer.
Not finding them in the study either, Khushi was intrigued. It was unlike the boys to be so quiet. Could they be in their room perhaps or had they-heaven forbid! Despite her warnings gone out of the house with their dog Sandy. She hurried up to their room and let out a breath of surprise as they found them on their respective tables, studying!
She looked at them lovingly from outside the door. Aarush and Ayush both were four years now and so much like their father in looks and manners, only they had their mother’s smile and her eyes. At the noisy breath she exhaled, both the kids turned to look at her with smiles on their faces.
She felt an ache in her heart to again realize that Arnav would never know that he had sired two sons-so much like him. They were just as uppity when someone challenged them or hurt them, they never showed off their intelligence but used it when required and possessed a great sense of understanding. They both loved humour and good music. They preferred English music to Hindi and -Khushi sighed soundlessly. They sometimes made fun of the songs she liked-just like their father used to. Oh Arnav! If only things were different, we’d be with you right now.
“Hi Mommy! We’re ready for the walk with Sandy.”
Khushi entered their room cautiously, knowing they always winded her up. Parents do when they know their kids loved a laugh. She was a grown woman and yet her sons were as smart as their father in winding her up by their arguments and their pranks.
“We’ll leave in some minutes. What are you two up to?”
“Oh we just thought we’d finish the homework this evening so that we can enjoy the weekend.” Aarush replied sunnily, his smile bringing an instant reply from Khushi.
“This weekend is the zoo and picnic weekend. Of course!” Then she added briskly as she opened their wardrobes, “All right. When you’re done with your homework, come down and we shall go for a walk. Make sure you wear the sweaters I’m laying out for you right now when you’re down. It’s almost winter and it’s starting to get chilly.”
“Yes Mommy.” Came two replies. Khushi ruffled their hair and gave them a kiss each on the top of their head and left them to go downstairs.
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.
Arnav too was thinking about the same incident while lying on his bed. How mean he had been to her that evening! His remorse knew no bounds as the tears he always kept hidden from everyone came to his eyes. He slowly wiped the tear away from his eye with his hand. He had always been unfair to Khushi. Khushi, who had been innocent of any malice that evening, had suffered at his hands. That was the first time when he had hurt her by doubting her. He closed his eyes and he continued thinking about that evening.
The moment Arnav had seen that tear fall; something had squeezed his heart tight, nearly making him gasp. He had felt as if he had been stabbed with a sharp dagger. When she hastily turned her head and walked away so that he couldn’t see her crying, regret took hold of his heart. He realized he may have been too harsh with her. Maybe his bitterness had been unjustified and maybe she was really an innocent. He knew he had a habit of painting every woman with the same brush due to his past but he couldn’t help it. He couldn’t trust anyone.
Arnav closed his eyes for a moment against this onslaught of emotions, as if trying to reach to a decision. When he opened them, determination had taken hold of his body. Whatever it was that he felt for Khushi, he couldn’t let it control him. He couldn’t let her get close to him. She disturbed him like no one else did. He shook the feeling away, telling himself he had done what was best for the both of them.
He had gone back to the family, where laughter and chatter kept everyone too busy to notice Arnav’s keen gaze on Khushi and Khushi’s avoidance of his eyes. Anjali however had not been too busy to notice that something had happened between her brother and that charming girl Khushi. She had asked him about her after the ceremony was over and Khushi had gone back home with her family. He had preferred not to talk about it and asked her to leave him alone.
He left the next day for London since the project they had been working on had to be executed from there. After the successful execution of the project, he had called up his uncle and asked him to pass on his congratulations to the entire team for the good work done. Much though he wanted to and probably as he should, he had not called Khushi to let her know that it was in fact her ideas and her presentation that had brought forth the best in the project.
Not that he was in the best of the moods these days. Anjali and Dean; who had just entered the scene then as her boyfriend, had both mentioned in the passing that he behaved like a bear with a sore head. Arnav knew he was not himself and he also knew the reason for it. He kept on thinking about a certain doe eyed female with tears falling down from her eyes and a hurt look on her face. He dreamt of her lips under his and could taste her essence when he closed his eyes. Her fragrance had stayed with him, on the suit that he had worn that evening. A week after he had returned, he had given the suit away for dry cleaning and had not worn it since. He worked out fiercely in the mornings and evenings, worked later than usual and dated as many women as he could. He dined them and took them out but he had lost the will to bed any of them. He couldn’t even think about kissing any one of those leggy, delectable models, much less taking them to bed.
His days were filled with work and night with longing. But he resisted- until he accidentally heard that Khushi’s parents wanted her to choose a husband too. His entire being revolted at the thought of Khushi in another man’s arms and a murderous rage took over. On prodding gently, Aakash told him that Khushi’s parents thought it was time they started looking for a suitable guy for Khushi. They had asked Khushi if she had anyone in mind but she had denied. What’s more they were troubled by her tears and her firm declaration that she would never get married. After a lot of back and forth talks, Khushi had finally agreed that she would at least consider any proposals she got before rejecting the offers of marriage out of hand.
It was this news that made Arnav fly to New Delhi the next day itself, on the pretext of upcoming business deal. He knew that Aakash could handle the whole deal himself but hell, what was he to do? He reached there the day after and walked around in the garden to catch a glimpse of the Khushi. He knew the window of her room overlooked Raizada garden. He had seen her once or twice while he jogged past her in the morning, sitting by the window ledge, gazing at nothing in particular and with a silly smile on her face.
To Arnav’s disappointment, Khushi never showed up by the window. She had stopped looking outside. From what he had gleaned after his general family talk with Aakash, she had become very dull since the last few weeks. Gone was her chirpiness; instead she was always frowning and sometimes her face was etched with some painful memory. Payal had tried hard to find out what the matter was but Khushi wouldn’t tell her and of course, it was so difficult to gauge one’s emotions simply over the phone. Aakash was worried about Khushi because Payal was worried about her. Typical lovesick teenager behaviour, thought Arnav smirking.
In the night, he paced around the room after dinner thinking about this conversation. He said to himself, “Of course she wouldn’t. She’d not be the girl I know if she spoke what was troubling her.”
As if they were connected with an invisible thread, memories overflowed Khushi’s mind almost at the same time. Khushi was also thinking about the events following that evening by the poolside.
Arnav had left the next day and she hadn’t heard or seen of him until the weekend when they all went to the golf club. She had known that he’d come back a few days ago but had carefully avoided all the times when she could even see him by chance.
That weekend, both the families had been invited for a party at the Golf Club. The theme of the party was formal vs. traditional. Payal had come down for the weekend and both the sisters had decided to dress up in traditional garb. Khushi was decked in a red sari with long silver earrings whereas Payal wore an orange sari with matching accessories. Both the Raizada and Gupta families had left in their respective cars and were mingling with other guests in the party. Aakash and Payal were being congratulated by their acquaintances and family friends where Khushi mingled with her own set of friends.
Khushi had not really wanted to come to the party but second thoughts; she decided she couldn’t avoid people forever. It is possible that she may run into Arnav at some time, since they were a part of the family of sorts. They knew the same kind of people and went to the same kind of places so it was inevitable that they meet each other sometime when Arnav was in New Delhi. It was important that she put the incident at the back of her mind and face him normally.
Still, she hadn’t expected to see Arnav at the party. She had been mingling with her group of friends far away from the lounge bar. But thirst drew her towards it. Walking into the club lounge that was decorated by smart furniture and green walls, keeping in tune with the motto of the golf club, she found Arnav sitting there. To not expect him to be there had been a mistake, she realized with a shock. One smartly clad knee rested atop another while he spoke with Mr Westerly and Martin; her dad’s friends. Her immediate reaction of course was to turn away from where he sat and leave the lounge bar area.
But Khushi was nothing if not determined. She had decided to put the past incident behind her and behave normally and that is exactly what she will do. She was not going to let him affect her in any way. Suppressing the cowardly impulse, she went ahead and sat at the bar table to order a glass of Chardonnay. It was her favourite white wine. She was joined by other people of her acquaintance in a short while and they all moved to sit in the other part of the half-lit lounge.
While a casual smile was pinned upon her face, Khushi straightened her shoulders and made some breezy talk. She was not unconscious of Arnav sitting just a little further away from her group, chatting with his friends or business colleagues. He seemed to be unaware of her presence and that’s exactly how she wanted it. She was thankful of this and at the same time terribly conscious of the fact that her own body was completely attuned to him. She didn’t know how but she felt his eyes on her the moment he caught sight of her. She looked at him and saw him falter in his chat, his smile almost fading away.
To her astonishment, Khushi felt a rush of satisfaction at his reaction. She gritted her teeth and gave a cool smile. Surely this satisfaction she felt was inappropriate for her? She hadn’t wanted him to notice her, did she? She didn’t even want him to falter or stare at her but he had and for the life of her, she couldn’t understand this rush of pleasure that ran through her body at his reaction. Deliberately, she turned her away from him and started talking to the person nearest to her. She had no idea what she was saying. All she knew was, she had gulped her glass of wine in one go and the waiter who had been standing nearby and come forward. She told him, “Can you get me a glass of Chardonnay again please?”
The waiter smiled at her and said, “Sure, Ms. Gupta. Right away.”
Khushi felt as if her smile was stuck to her face, while her heart beat fast. It was literally pounding as it heard Arnav talking to others in the distance. He had seemingly recovered from his shock at seeing her and was not animatedly immersed in a conversation behind her. Khushi closed her eyes. For so many days now, his voice had haunted her, his face a part of her dreams. Her mind constantly kept on going over and over that kiss; the passion in his eyes and later on, the contempt on his face. Her dreams were full of the moment when he had lowered his mouth on hers. His harsh tone when he told her he thought of her as nothing more but a man-trap or a fortune hunter and as much as he was attracted to her, he didn’t want anything to do with her and feelings.
She hated those odd moments in the day when her heart would suddenly speed up from the memory, just like it did now. Khushi took deep breaths; breathe in- breathe out, inhale, exhale. She was determined to calm down so that no one could see her agitation, least of all that Arnav Singh Raizada.
“Here is your glass of white wine Ms Gupta. Are you alright?” The overfriendly waiter asked.
Khushi gave him a bright smile but her eyes were full of ice, “What? Oh yes, I’m fine.” The waiter had the grace to blush. Khushi took a small sip this time, smiling at the person next to her, who was talking about some garden. The wine was excellent but to her it tasted like water, the company was interesting but felt boring; nothing felt good.
She closed her eyes, willing herself to remain calm as she heard the conversation behind her break up. Mr Westerly and Martin were going away to dine with their wife and kids accompanying them this time. Arnav had politely declined going along with them. Khushi could feel her heart beating mercilessly against her chest. For God’s sake, calm down! Arnav would leave too, she was sure. She prayed he would. She felt herself go tense simply in the anticipation that this moment would be over soon. He would leave.
Instead of leaving with others, Arnav walked towards Khushi. She looked ethereal to him. Did she know red was his favourite colour? Earlier when he’d seen her for the first time in so many days, he had felt his heart stop. She looked like his dream come true to him; dressed in a red sari with those silver earrings dangling from her ear as if trying to kiss her cheeks every time she turned her head. When she turned away from him, he had been tempted to leap up and go to her, to pick her up and walk away into oblivion where no one would disturb them. But he had controlled himself and carried on with his conversation after a few seconds.
Goosebumps erupted all over Khushi’s body as she felt his presence right behind her chair. He looked oh, so casual as he sauntered right up to where she sat with her friends. The fiend! She wanted to look at him, she wanted to send him a cool smile, letting him know that he didn’t affect her; she didn’t care at all for him. She wanted to tell him that he couldn’t rattle her- Khushi Kumari Gupta. She was calm, she was cool. But she couldn’t do anything of the sort. She simply kept sitting, staring fixedly down at her glass of wine.
An arm snaked out in front of her and she almost jerked in reaction. He was reaching out to pick up cashews from the bowl on the table.
“Hi Khushi.” Arnav greeted her.
Khushi put up her brightest smile and slowly looked up at him, “Oh hello Arnav. Fancy seeing you here, back in India.”
Arnav didn’t smile back. Her smile faltered. He excused himself and asked the person sitting next to her “Is it okay if I sit here?”
The other person, Khushi couldn’t remember who he was got up and gladly gave him the permission to sit. “I was leaving anyway. Nice talking to you Khushi. Let’s meet up sometime.”
Khushi smiled at him and watch him go. Arnav hadn’t sat down yet. He looked at her, “Okay if I sit here?”
Her fingers played with her wine glass. Act unconcerned Khushi, she told herself. Then she didn’t look at him but she said lightly, “Why should it not be okay? You can sit wherever you want Arnav.”
She saw him sitting down from the corner of her eyes. His eyes were watching her carefully, “I haven’t seen you around in the last few days. Not at the office, not by the house. Been keeping busy, have you?”
“I have my German exams coming up so yes, been keeping busy. Plus I’ve had no time to do anything else with so much to study.”
His voice was so low that only she could hear it as he said, “I thought I’d driven you away from the places that interested you earlier. That you wanted to avoid me.”
Khushi gave a little laugh, as if she was above it all and said, “Oh Arnav, come now. I know we don’t know each other well enough but I thought you’d realize that I wouldn’t let you do that- drive me away from places of my interest.”
Arnav didn’t get into a slinging match. He simply looked at her and she said, “I’m here now, aren’t I? You’re sitting next to me so how can I be avoiding you?”
“Ye-es true. You’re sitting next to me right now.” He conceded.
Khushi waved her hand in the air, as if she had proved her point by the statement.
Aranv leaned on his elbow that was on the bar of the chair, resting his jaw in his hand and stared. Khushi wailed inwardly as she tried to keep her calm demeanour intact. The devil! Did he know how mortifying she felt right now, with his dark amber, amazing eyes boring into her? He broke the silence as she shifted in her seat uncomfortably, “So, if you’re not avoiding me, would you be willing , umm.. to play tennis with me tomorrow?”
“Certainly.” Khushi replied back instantly. It would not do to give him the impression that she wanted to run away from him as fast as her legs could take her. He had started believing in her statement and she would do anything to keep that impression of unconcern intact. She took another sip of her wine, imagining him playing tennis. She could imagine the muscles she had felt when he had held her moving under his shirt as he played tennis. Her heart sped up again as she remembered the kiss.
“And would you dine with me tonight along with the rest of the family?” Arnav asked. Khushi inclined her head in agreement. After all, this is what she wanted. Yes, this would surely establish them on a normal footing, keeping all the other sensations away when the others would be around them.
“Really.” Arnav said. It was more a disbelieving statement than a question.
Khushi couldn’t meet his gaze for long, “Yes, really”, she said.
Arnav reached out with his other hand to snare some more cashews, his eyes lowered so as not to give Khushi any idea of what he was thinking. Khushi watched him, heat filling up her body beneath her blouse as he slowly placed the nut in his mouth, closed his eyes and savoured its taste. He opened his eyes to catch her gawking at him. Khushi hurriedly lowered her lashes.
Arnav continued as if he had not seen her hungry stare, “Strange that you’re so fired up to be cool with me after we shared that kiss; so cool that you could do anything.”
“Don’t give yourself too much credit”, snapped Khushi and leaned closer to him to whisper, her eyes glaring, “just because you kissed me and I allowed you to kiss me isn’t going to change the way I feel about you. It is not going to change my world. I’ve kissed men before you know. It wasn’t a big deal.”
“No big deal, hmm” Arnav’s gaze didn’t leave Khushi’s. She lifted the hand that held the glass of wine and said, “Yes, you heard me right.” She gave him a smile as she sipped on her wine. She had always believed she was immune to the charms of men in general and in particular of Arnav’s kind; the ones who were out on the hunt. In all of her twenty five years, she had never felt as vulnerable as she felt towards Arnav- him of all people! Her blood was singing through her veins, her body felt as if it would instantly combust if she sat next to him any longer. But she had to, she wouldn’t admit defeat.
Arnav was watching the expression that flitted across her face, without her knowing. “Then..” he said, “if you’re so unaffected by that kiss and by me, then I am sure you wouldn’t object going out for walk with me on the club terrace.”
Her eyes widened as she took in his words, “What? Now?”
Arnav nodded and said, “Any problem? If you’re so unaffected by me then you wouldn’t mind it surely? In fact, there is something with regards to the project you worked on that I wanted to talk to you about. In private.”
*Flashback continues to the next chapter*
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Arnav wore a black silk shirt and looked like sex on wheels. Khushi met his eyes and looked away as usual. She couldn’t deny that he looked handsome and that he did something make her heart do somersaults but she was damned if she’d admit it. So she raised her chin and looked at him again, defiance plain in her eyes. Arnav simply bowed his head very slightly, not for all to see but only for her as if acknowledging her defiance. When her gaze moved from him, she saw a lovely woman standing next to him, looking at him with a smile of joy and wonder on her face and then looking at her. Her smile radiated warmth and Khushi automatically smiled back at her even though her mind buzzed with hundred questions. Who was she and what was she to him? Her face though, remained clear of her thoughts.
Mrs. Raizada’s loud voice boomed in her ears, making her flinch. “Ah! Arnav, Anjali beta.. come come. We were just waiting for you.” She looked Khushi and said, “Payal, Khushi; beta meet my darling niece Anjali. She is Arnav’s sister and she too loves candles like Payal does.”
After hands were shaken and embracing done, Anjali sat down next to Khushi and Payal. She engaged Payal in small talk while Khushi wondered about her. So this was Arnav’s sister. She was so different from him! Like chalk and cheese this brother-sister pair were; with one being so mean and cruel while the other being extremely warm and sweet. Anjali was beautiful, thought Khushi. In that area of course, both brother and sister had been generously blessed by the Almighty.
“Useless to compare; she’s the sweet side of me.” Amused voice broke into her thoughts.
“I beg your pardon?” Khushi feigned ignorance.
“Anjali is my half-sister and thus perhaps missed the mean streak that I inherited.” Arnav said, “I know what you were thinking.”
Khushi fluttered her lashes at him and gave him a very obvious fake smile, “I had no idea you were a psychic. And are you telling me there actually is a sweet side to you? Wow.”
The statement was meant to insult him and it sure did. For a moment, his eyes caught fire and his jaw tensed but then, control took over. He visibly relaxed and smiled, “Oh yeah, I tried to show you my sweet side the other day but you ran away.”
“I didn’t run away!” Khushi protested, her glare deadly enough to kill a man or two. Then as if she realized she had just acquiesced with his statement in a way, she said, “I walked away like any female with sense in her head would. And if that was the sweeter side of you, god help us all when you -”
Aware that she was again putting her foot in her mouth, she shut up. Amber eyes bored into her, challenging her to continue. “when I what- Khushi? Scared to put your thoughts into words, are you?”
“Nonsense! Anyway, I don’t think sharks have a sweet side to them.” Khushi declared, avoiding his eyes. As if she couldn’t bear to sit there with his eyes looking at her, she stood up and immediately felt flustered as all eyes looked at her. Smiling hesitantly, she said, “I think I’ll take a look at all those candles and lights by the poolside.” Looking at Anjali, she smiled genuinely, complimenting her, “They look beautiful.”
Anjali smiled back at her, affirming her opinion that here sat a lovely woman who was an absolute antithesis of her brother.
Khushi reached the poolside and took a deep breath. She really needed to calm down when that man was around! She had no idea why he affected her so much but she couldn’t ignore the fact that he did. May be this was the first time she actually understood what it was like to feel attracted to a man. She had been the centre of attention for many guys in the last couple of years but she had been easily able to dismiss their attention, their stares. Nothing had ever affected her the way his eyes did. It troubled her that she had no control over her reactions to him. Why was she not able to control her heart beats around him? Why did she left him affect her so?
“Thinking about me?” A voice spoke softly in her ear. Deep in thoughts, Khushi took the voice to be a part of her thinking and simply muttered, “Great, now I hear him in my thoughts! Why is he affecting me like this? Not that I give a damn but-”
A chuckle broke into her thoughts and Khushi realized with horror that the voice had not been a part of her thoughts. Arnav was actually standing next to her. She moved away quickly and tried to mask her reactions. Acting nonchalant, she asked, “What are you doing here?”
“Helping you think more about me, obviously.” He tantalizingly replied. Khushi put all the scorn she could muster in her gaze while she looked up at him, “You give yourself too much credit. I was not thinking about you.”
“No?” He asked disbelief plain on his face.
Khushi moved further away from him, to the other side of the pool, where potted flowers lay on one side of the wall. “Of course not! I was thinking about- well, not about you for sure. And it’s none of your business who or what I was thinking about.”
“What if I want to make it my business?” Before Khushi knew what was happening, he had trapped her between himself and the wall.
“You- you-” Words failed her and Khushi tried to find a way to get out of the trap. Arnav came closer still until she could feel his breath on her face.
“I-what Khushi?” Arnav whispered, bending a bit so that he could whisper in her ear, “If you want to know, you’ve been in my thoughts too. Unwanted and unexpected but you’ve been there… in my unholy thoughts. Does that help you?”
“No.” Khushi could only whisper back an honest reply.
“What should we do about it then?” Arnav whispered, coming closer, his eyes resting on her lips that trembled when he touched them gently. “I know of a cure.”
“You do?” Khushi’s breathing had gone ragged by now, with his fingers working magic on her lips. She wanted to lick them, to take them one by one in her mouth and suck on them. Never in her life had she felt such sensations rocking her body before. She stared into his eyes that beckoned her to travel with him to places unknown. She felt as if she was losing herself in those deep pools of amber fire that burned with desire. It gave her a heady feeling of power to know that she could ignite such fire in his eyes. His next words almost undid her.
“Sure I do. Let me show you how to cure it.” Arnav said to her. Before she could guess his intentions, he took her in his arms, slowly placed one hand on the nape of her neck and bent down- to touch his lips to hers. At first his lips were gentle and soft but soon they turned demanding and coaxed a response out of her, devouring her.
Khushi had heard of powerful physical attraction but never felt it before. She was stunned for a second or two when his lips stroked hers. Then she forgot everything- who she was, who he was and simply melted in his arms. All the anger since the time they’d first laid eyes on each other went puff and the only thing that seemed to have remained was this attraction that they felt for each other. She wound her arms around his neck and opened her mouth in response, inviting him in to taste her deeply. Arnav groaned softly when he felt her mouth open under his and deepened the kiss. He caressed her back, moulding her body to his as if they wanted to be one.
God, what was she doing to him? He’d never felt this raging fire pulsing in his veins before. It felt as if he’d die if he let go of her lips. Their breaths mingled and tongues touched, making him want to explore more of her- all of her. At this moment he couldn’t remember his name, let alone the fact that they were by the poolside and anyone could see them if they walked by. He could feel her inexperience in that kiss and for some reason that excited him all the more.
Exerting immense control over his body, Arnav slowly removed his lips from hers and stepped back so that he wouldn’t grab her again. He had to control himself because he knew in his gut that if he held her again, they wouldn’t let each other go. He was now sure that until they had sated each other’s hunger, this fire wouldn’t burn out. But for the moment, he would have to gain control. His good intentions almost flew out of the window when he saw the expression on her face. Khushi still had her eyes closed. As his lips left hers, she slowly licked them clean of his taste and took a deep breath. He groaned out loud.
“For heaven’s sake, take pity on me darling. Right now, if we don’t stop I will simply lay you down and take you right here, right now.”
That seemed to have an instant effect- her eyes snapped open as she looked at him dazedly first and then with growing horror on her face.
Khushi opened her eyes slowly, her senses still under the spell of the kiss. What a kiss that was! It felt as if she had only just come to life with that kiss. She licked her lips and she could taste him. She didn’t know what she craved for, only that he do it again and again until she felt completely replete.
A groan broke into her thoughts, and then she heard the words, softly spoken. Her eyes snapped open, growing wide with horror, her breathing wild. She looked at Arnav and her hands came up to cup her mouth. Devi Maiyya! Oh my goodness! What had she done! What had HE done to her! She had been almost ready to make love to him by the poolside, in view of anyone who cared to walk by! She was completely confused about her feelings at this time but she surely was better than this! How could she have done this? He made her do it!
Disgust and rage took hold of her senses, the cloud of desire completely lifted now. “How dare you! You can’ go around kissing anyone you feel like. Just because you’re rich and I’ll grant you- good looking, doesn’t mean you can come on to me!” She raged, her voice hoarse from the emotions she was going through. She lifted her hand as if slap him but at his quiet, “Be careful Khushi. If you slap me, you may go through another round of roller coaster of emotions you’re not ready to face yet. You gave as much as you got out of that kiss.”
Khushi turned away from him, her anger evident by the trembling of her body, “Forget that this ever happened! It’s just the kind of thing I should have expected from you. I’ve heard about you Arnav Singh Raizada. You’re a playboy out there in London, with many notches out on your belt. Don’t you even think that I’ll be one of them! You are disgusting!”
“You didn’t find me so disgusting a few seconds back when you were kissing me back. Had I not stopped, I could have -”
Khushi motioned him to stop with her hand out in protest, her eyes spitting fire now. “I didn’t know what I was doing, naïve that I am in these matters but you did. And you were out to take advantage of that fact. I know all about men like you. You don’t respect anyone or anything apart from being selfish and take all that you want, by any means.”
Aranv looked at her as if he would throttle her. His body was still on fire; only years of tightly reined in self-control was helping him keep away from her. However, his anger was swiftly replacing desire by her hot and cold attitude. He took a step in her direction. He was tempted to call her bluff off. He knew very well that he was not going to forget her and he sure as hell was not going to let her forget him.
A part of Khushi quailed at his look, but she kept up her brave girl façade, standing her ground and warning him, “Don’t you ever come near me,Raizada! If you do, I swear I’ll scream the house down and then your “good” repute can say bye bye.”
Arnav looked at her, incredulity plain on his face. Was she serious? She was brainwashing herself and laying all the blame at his door when she was just as responsible for what had happened between them! What was her game?
A part of him that always hastened to caution him; a part of him that always carried bitterness inside from his past came up quickly feeding on this doubt, taking over his brain. He forgot all about his feelings, his intentions towards her as his mind started whirring in a completely different direction. She was probably one of those girls who felt the need to trap a man in her clutches and feed on him like a parasite for the rest of her life. She was probably just like his mother. Something seemed to harden in him at that thought.
“I don’t think you’re naïve Khushi, quite the contrary in fact. Any girl who can kiss the way you do already knows the score. In our case, I am honest with my feelings and can tell you that I want you. You however, wish to play games.”
“Why you-” Khushi spluttered but didn’t get a chance to go any further as with a look full of cold contempt etched on his face he said, “ I don’t play games Khushi Kumari Gupta. Especially not with your kind; who think they can trap a man into marriage by seducing them with their big eyes and fake innocence. I am not Aakash who falls for the wiles of a woman.” He deliberately turned his next statement into a gauntlet, “I’d rather have you in my bed for free than be trapped for my entire life. If you wish to take me up on my proposition, do let me know.”
Saying this, he walked away leaving Khushi to come to terms with what he’d said. He wasn’t sure why but he looked back once — and saw her struggling with her tears. She was standing exactly where he’d left her. As if feeling his eyes on herself, she looked up and met his gaze. Slowly a tear fell from her eye. Soon a steady stream of tears began. Hastily Khushi turned away from him and walked to the other side of the pool side where stairs would lead her upstairs into the prayer room.
Khushi closed her eyes as that memory took her over and tears rained down her cheeks and on to the pillow. That first kiss held bitter sweet memories for her. She hadn’t understood then why he’d been brutal with her but as the time had passed and they had come closer, she had found out all about the reason behind his cruelty that evening. She had then realized that Arnav was not a bad person by nature. He was just a man who struggled and fought every day against his past memories. Sometimes he lost and sometimes he won. That evening was the time when he had lost.
Khushi was so annoyed with herself! She knew she shouldn’t have picked up the phone. Her treacherous hands had not supported her brain’s orders. Now look what came of it! As she heard him huskily say, “Missing me yet?” she forced a laugh,
“You wish! What the hell do you think you’re doing, calling me up in the middle of the night? In case you didn’t know, civilized people sleep at this hour.”
“In that case you and I both are not civilized enough to be awake at this hour. Couldn’t sleep?” He asked confidently as if he knew she’d been sitting there thinking of him.
“I was deep in sleep when you called. And I’m going to go back to sleep after I hang up the phone. Good n-”
“Liar!” pat came his reply with laughter following, “you and I both know Khushi that we’re bound by this invisible thread of telepathy. I can just about see you in your bed, making a mess of the bed covers and pummelling your pillow in frustration. Can’t get those memories out of your head, can you now?”
Khushi looked at the cell-phone, open mouthed. Indeed her bed covers were bunched up in her hands, a complete mess and she had been hitting her pillow. How the hell does he know what I’ve been thinking about and how does he know that I’ve been doing exactly the thing? Quickly she removed the covers and moved to the window?
“Are you here again Raizada? I swear to God I’ll have you arrested if you try to snoop in on me again!”
Arnav bit back a laugh and said, “Darling, to know what you’re doing and thinking doesn’t need me out there in person. I can hear your thoughts; I can see you from no matter where I am. Distance is immaterial when it comes to you and me Khushi.”
“Huh.. Don’t talk to me about distance and memories Arnav. You’re as far away from my thoughts as -as Mars and memories.. huh.. I do have a lasting memory of you accusing me of being a loose character. Nothing will persuade me to bring that memory up before sleep time. Nothing better to bring a nightmare in the night am sure.”
Khushi’s cold tones were clear and crisp as the night, her pain and bitterness evident in her voice. Arnav closed his eyes in despair as a deep sigh escaped from him. He hated himself for what he’d done and he hated hearing Khushi’s voice laced with pain and bitterness more than ever before tonight. He had to somehow get past this barrier of bitterness, this cloak of pain she wore.
What he said next didn’t just bring tears in Khushi’s eyes but also brought out her panic. Her insides roiled with the fear of losing him completely as he said quietly,
“Khushi I can’t ask for your forgiveness any more than I can forgive myself. I know you can’t find it in your heart to forgive me. All I am asking of you right now is this- remember all those times when we were together and we were happy. Think of those times and remember me from those times. I want to be that Arnav for you again, my love. You’re not the only one scared right now. I’m scared too Khushi because I don’t want anyone else to have your heart. The thought of anyone else loving you or kissing you enrages me to the point of madness. I’m scared because I don’t want anyone else to take the place that is mine. I want to be your heart’s desire.
I want to make you happy again Khushi. Seeing you unhappy brings grief and pain to me as much as it does to you. If you tell me tonight that not seeing me and not forgiving me gives you happiness, I will leave you alone. I will walk away and you will never see me or hear from me again Khushi. I want to see you happy, even if it is without me. If you think there is a chance where you can forgive me, then give me a chance to prove my love to you Khushi. That’s all I’m asking for. If you think there is a chance for us, if you think you can let me prove to you that I’m really the Arnav you fell in love with, come and meet me at the Barista on Mall Road tomorrow evening at 4:30. Think about it with your head and your heart. Good night Khushi.”
Khushi could only stare at the cell phone in her hand as she heard a definite click that said the phone was disconnected. Arnav would do that? Immense amount of rage crowded Khushi’s mind making her see a red mist in front of her. How dare you Arnav Singh Raizada! How could you talk of leaving me alone! Her heart screamed out its pain as her mind conjured up the time where Arnav would be absent from her life forever.
Her mind created images of Arnav walking away from her, never to look back bringing tears to her eyes. NO! Her heart shouted, objecting to any reasoning made by her head that was still coming to terms with his words. He can’t leave me after declaring that he wishes to change for me; that he wishes for my forgiveness and would do anything for it. How dare he think that he can just walk away after actually confessing that he loved her even when he’d been angry with her! She’d teach him a lesson or two tomorrow when she went to meet him.
Still fuming, she laid back down on the bed, her mind made up. She will meet him tomorrow. Not that she was able to sleep. In her sleep, her mind travelled back to the time when they had finally kissed.
It had been building up for two weeks. Arnav had been in Delhi for the past two weeks, in the same office as Khushi, though they hardly saw each other. After the waiting lounge incident, both seemed to be keeping their distance from each other. Arnav had been surprised when he’d seen Khushi during the project presentation. Knowing that they’d probably have to work together sometime had weighed on his mind as well as hers for some days until they finally decided that they couldn’t do anything about it. Silently they had agreed on a truce. If they had to speak to each other, they made sure they had a chaperone with them.
Khushi didn’t know how but she understood what he wanted even before he could say it out loud. She had seen the surprise in his eyes when she’d worked out the project details exactly as he wanted it without him saying more than a dozen words to her. She enjoyed the work and felt satisfied at the performance of the project. The project had been going on for four weeks now and was on the verge of completion. Whatever that had to be done from the Indian office end was done by now and it was time for the London office to take over the project and guide it towards final execution.
On the home front, Khushi regularly met Aakash and his mother when she went to Raizada Mansion but avoided Arnav at all costs. Anyway Arnav never seemed to be there when she went visiting them with her parents and her sister Payal. Things seemed to be moving towards Aakash and Payal’s engagement. Khushi’s father; Sashi Gupta and Aakash’s father; Mahinder Singh Raizada had already given their blessings to the couple. The only thing that remained was for Payal to finish her social work year at Shantiniketan.
It was the evening before Payal was to leave for Shantiniketan. They all had been invited to the Raizada Mansion for dinner. It had also been decided by the elders that they would do the “ROKA” function after dinner so that the engagement could be announced at a later date once Payal returned from Shantiniketan after two months. ROKA is a custom followed by people from the North of India to indicate that the couple has been given the blessing by their elders to get married.
To grace the occasion, Khushi wore a green sari with sequined border. While dressing, Khushi had thought about Arnav. Would he be there tonight? After all, he was a part of their family. Khushi had also heard that his sister, Anjali had flown down to India to meet Payal and to attend the ROKA function. She was the only sister between Aakash and Arnav. Khushi wondered what Arnav’ sister was like. Was he as arrogant and pig-headed as her brother? From what she’d heard of her from Aakash’s Mum and Aakash himself, she was angel personified. She finished dressing and helped Payal get ready. Her doe brown eyes sparkled with mischief as she teased Payal mercilessly.
“Khushi stop it! Wait until it’s your turn you devilish creature!” Payal threatened her. Khushi waved her hand in the air, “Huh.. You’d not be able to bring me down from heaven the day I have my ROKA jiji. No amount of teasing would work on me a I’d consent to marry only when I meet the man of my dreams; the one who’d love me to death!”
An image popped unheeded into Khushi’s head of a guy in dark suit, holding her from behind and kissing her neck. A shudder passed through her body. She had no business thinking about that man! She shook her head so vehemently that Payal looked at her quizzically.
“All okay Khushi? Trying to dispense with the image of your Mr. Right?”
“You dream on jiji and I’ll not burst your balloon if that’s what you want to think.” Khushi forced herself to speak gaily, making nonsense of Payal’s question though a light blush did steal through her cheeks.
“Let’s go jiji! It’s very naughty of you to keep my Aakash ji-”At Payal’s raised eyebrows, she laughed,”Jijaji waiting.” Payal slapped her playfully on the shoulder as both the sisters left their room to meet their parents who waited for them in the main room. Together they reached the Raizada Mansion next door.
After the formal embraces between both the parents, with Payal and Aakash sharing loving glances, they all sat down. Khushi looked around for the sign of guy who had been haunting her thoughts since this evening.
“Who are you looking for Khushi? Aakash’s question brought her head snapping back to the party present.
Khushi blushed and then quickly replied, “I was just looking at – er- the candles and the lights decorated by the poolside. There’s so many of them Jijaji! You did that for jiji?”
As Payal and Aakash both blushed, a laugh erupted from Mrs. Raizada. “No my dear Khushi, there is also someone else in the house who loves lighting candles.”
Khushi looked at her with mouth open. Arnav Singh Raizada had a fetish for candles? Almost as if the thought had conjured up the man, he came into her view making her heart beat just a little faster.
Chapter 15- Flashback continues. Arnav and Khushi give into their desires and kiss by the poolside! Aftermath follows.
NOTE: FLASHBACK WILL CONTINUE ON TO THE NEXT CHAPTER THAT WILL BE POSTED TOMORROW. I DECIDED AGAINST POSTING A LONG CHAPTER AS I FEEL IT MAKES IT DIFFICULT FOR THE READERS TO READ. 🙂 FORGIVE THE TYPOS. MY KEYBOARD IS ACTING WEIRD.
Chapter-13 (Flashback in Italics)
A satisfied smile adorned Mrs. Gupta’s face when she put the phone down. Khushi, who had just come back from the camp, saw this smile and wondered what could have happened to put such a smile on her grandma’s face. Surely it must be some good news?
“What’s this smile for? What’s the news grandma?” Asked Khushi, plopping herself on the sofa besides her grandmother.
“Ah, my darling! I am so happy today. It seems like the little risk I had taken for my biggest investment is about to be paid off.” Mrs Gupta put her hand on Khushi’s head and caressed her hair as Khushi laid her head in her grandma’s lap. A beaming smile lit her face too at her grandmother’s happiness.
“Really? That’s cool grandma! So are we going to party?” Khushi asked with raised eyebrows and saucy smile on her face.
“Not before I see the fruits of my plans.”, said her grandmother and tweaked her ear. “Ouch! That hurt grandma. How could you hurt me like that?”
“Growing up is a difficult process my child, I know that. But one day you have to. The day you grow up, I’ll tell you all my secrets.” Mrs. Gupta said. Before Khushi could ask anything more about this ambiguous statement, Mrs. Gupta changed the topic, “So how was your camp this year? How were the kids this time around? Anything special happened?”
Images of Arnav kissing her the morning of the camp, comforting and playing with the kids, as well as the bird watching incident crowded Khushi’s mind. As a result, her face outpoured multiple expressions of confusion, anger and love. She shook her head as if trying to disperse all these images from her head and looked at her grandmother, forcing a smile upon her face. After all, it would be expected of her that she be tired but happy.
“Everything went well, grandma. I really liked spending my time out there with those children. The feeling never changes although it does leave me tired.”
“Of course, taking care of children is a tough task but you do it well, don’t you my dear?” Mrs. Gupta cajoled her daughter for more information, “But did you see anything interesting? There must’ve been new volunteers with your group. Did you meet anyone nice?”
“Hah! Like I would, come on! You know how picky I am. “Khushi had to force herself to laugh that one off and feign a yawn. “Lord, I’m so tired I could sleep right here. Do you mind if I skip dinner tonight and go off to sleep grandma? I truly don’t wish to stay awake any longer than I have to.”
“Go to your room child, Lalita will bring something to you on a tray. You can sleep until late tomorrow morning since me and Payal are not going to be around.” At the question in Khushi’s eyes, Mrs. Gupta clarified, “We’re going shopping since Payal plans to leave soon. I must make sure to buy gifts for all to send. They’re all such nice people.”
“Yes, they are.” Khushi affirmed and then added, “Enjoy yourselves tomorrow then. I’m off to sleep. Good night grandma.”
Khushi hugged Mrs. Gupta and went upstairs to her room. She was not in the least sleepy but she wanted to be by herself. Donning on her cream night dress, she went and sat by the window ledge, watching the dark hills far away. She gazed at the clear sky, twinkling with stars. If only she could follow their example! She so much wished to clear her mind of all the confusion and hurt, to retain only good memories of Arnav. She knew that he would not quit, he would not rest until he achieved his goal-her forgiveness and her trust. But could she really trust him? Had he not broken it so brutally, she might have had it in her heart to forgive him easily. But he hadn’t even given her a chance to clear her side. How could she forgive him for that? How could she ever forget his venomous words that had poisoned her soul? Where could she find the antidote for such venom?
Deep down, she knew that Arnav was, is and will be the only man she’d ever love. Her belief had been put very nicely in one of her favourite Indian films, “Kuch Kuch Hota hain” where SRK said, “Hum sirf ek baar jeete hain, ek he baar marte hain aur pyaar- pyaar bhi sirf ek baar he hota hain.” She knew it held true in her case. She’d never be able to replace Arnav with anyone. His image, her love for him was seared in her soul. But it was not possible for her to show it to him anymore. She may love him to bits but she would never let him know. She had been very badly hurt the last time.
“What if he proves himself to you Khushi? What if he truly regrets his mis-judgement and wishes to make up to you? What if he said those horrible things only in anger and didn’t mean them?” Khushi asked herself, “Would be so cruel as to not even give him a chance to prove his love, to earn back your trust? What then would be the difference between him and you?”
A knock on the door broke her monologue. Lalita entered with a tray that held a bowl of minestrone soup and bread. This was her favourite food when she was tired. Khushi smiled at Lalita and thanked her. When Lalita left the room, the smile disappeared and a thoughtful expression took its place back on her face. She absently started eating her food, with one leg dangling from the window ledge as she thought of Arnav. Should she give him a second chance? Should she believe his claim of loving her or should she believe what she’d been told before? She knew very well that he wanted her, oh yes he did. He always had.
Khushi had agreed to help Aakash and his father Mr. Mahinder Singh Raizada at work. Senior Mr. Raizada’s secretary had been off sick and the temp agency had not been able to send any satisfactory replacement. Since Khushi was not doing anything in particular, she had volunteered to help them. Soon of course her potential was obvious and she had been asked to work on contract basis for an important project. Apparently the marketing team needed a big boost due to the last two screw ups that had lost them good deals. Khushi was to work in co-ordination with the marketing department and handle the entire project as an outside consultant. She was very happy as the project had given her something challenging to work on.
At the time she had taken up the project, she of course had no idea that her path was about to be crossed with Arnav again. He was the London counterpart who would be handling the deal in the U.K. Was the only fact she had been aware of. She had had no idea at the time that this project would one day pave the path to bring them closer to each other.
A week after Khushi had joined the project; she had been sitting in the waiting area of Mr. Raizada’s office, waiting to talk to him when she felt his presence a moment before she heard his mocking drawl,
“And what’s a social butterfly like yourself doing in an office?”
She looked up to meet his eyes only to silently gasp. She had almost forgotten the intensity of those eyes. They gave her a thorough look over that incensed her awareness of him, bringing a sparkle of rage to her eyes. However her voice showed none of her rage as she calmly retorted,
“I thought the norm of greeting in corporate offices was “hello” or “good morning”. “
“Good morning Ms. Gupta. What brings you here?” He sounded so meek that Khushi looked at him suspiciously. Arnav Singh Raizada and meek? Huhh.. What a joke! She may have met him twice but she knew his type well. Such men were arrogance personified.
“What- no come back? “ He raised an eyebrow with the drawl she was slowly coming to hate.
“I am thinking if you are as stupid as you sound although that would hardly stand up to the image everyone has of you.” At his look of disbelief at her words, Khushi felt a quiet sense of glee. He looked as if he couldn’t believe he was being called stupid. While he still looked at her, she continued, “Obviously, since I am waiting here in the reception lounge of senior Mr. Raizada, I’d have thought it would be obvious to a clever man like you what I might be doing here. Looks can be so deceptive.. oh dear, you look angry.” She could barely contain the smile that wanted to break free on her face.
“I am not sure what you could be doing here waiting for Mahinder uncle. What business have you here with him? Maybe I can help?” He spoke up, his amber eyes ready to catch fire but his voice ever so cold.
Khushi shook her head in negation, “Nothing that I may need your help with Mr. Raizada. My business is solely with er- Mahinder uncle.”
A slight cough had them both turning around at the secretary sitting at the reception lounge. She was a young thing, looking at them both with a troubled expression on her face, as if scared to intervene. Arnav looked at her and gave her a dazzling smile that probably floored the poor thing. She purred like a cat with a smile on her face that had Khushi gritting her teeth, “Welcome back Mr. Raizada. We were awaiting your return.”
“Thank you Edith. How are you? Is my uncle free?” He asked her.
Any moment now Khushi was sure this Edith chick will probably climb over the desk and wrap herself around his feet. Silly twit! As if he could read her thoughts, Arnav turned to her and gave her a shark grin that almost had Khushi jumping from her seat to grab his neck and throttle him. How dare he flirt so openly with-
Almost shocked at her thoughts, Khushi quickly looked away from him and at Edith, “ Ms. George please inform Mr. Raizada that I’ll be with Aakash if he wishes to speak to me.”
“Sure Ms. Gupta.” Edith replied back abently, her gaze stuck on Arnav, “Mr Raizada, let me call Mr. Raizada sir and find out if he’s free. If you’d wait here a moment please?”
“On second thoughts Edith, would you ask him to buzz me when he’s free? I’ll be in my office. Thanks.” It was the ruthless businessman who was doing the talking now. Gone was the smile of a charmer and it was replaced with a dismissal. Khushi muttered under her breath, “Laad Governer kahin ka, he thinks everyone is inferior to him. Arrogant ass.” as she walked off from the area. Not that she went far.
“Not so fast! I wish to know what it was that you said under your breath just now.”
A hand came to clamp itself around her waist and she was dragged into a corner at the turn of the lounge. Khushi gasped with outrage, and tried to free herself. “How dare you! Let me go Raizada, I’m not one of your empty headed bit of fluff!”
“As soon as you tell me what it was your said before, I’ll let you go.” Arnav said while he held her. Truth be told, he liked her moulded to him like this. She fit his hold perfectly; his hand on her tiny waist making her his prisoner, her back rubbing against his chest as she struggled, igniting a fire that refused to be bogged down.
Khushi could feel herself burning up at the touch of his hand on her waist. In fact her whole body seemed to be burning up while he held her tight from behind, with his chest rubbing her back so often. “Go to hell Raizada. I don’t wish to talk to you.”
“If you keep on moving, there won’t be any possibility of us talking at all. In fact, let us not talk; I like you much better like this if only you’d stay quiet.” Arnav said huskily, pulling her even closer by putting his other arm around her waist and touching his lips to the side of her neck.
Khushi trembled violently in his arms as she felt his lips come in contact with the side of her neck. She may not have any experience when it came to men since she never had any serious boyfriends but she was not entirely naïve. She could feel the sexual tension that had both of them in its grasp and made her want to submit. She found it difficult to breathe when Arnav turned her to face him, with his arms still around her; her entire body shaking with an unknown emotion. She had to get out of his arms or she’d suffer from instant combustion.
Her voice trembled when she said while looking down, “Let me go Raizada. I don’t like being manhandled like this. Let me go and I’ll tell you what it was that I said.”
Arnav looked down at her lips and then at her eyes. He caught her chin in his hand and made her look up to him. What he saw there nearly toppled him. He could read the same desire in her eyes that he felt, and he could even feel her wanting to control this madness. As Khushi met his eyes and saw them watching her lips, she felt her throat tighten, her lips drying. As if she couldn’t help herself, the tip of her tongue came out and wet her lips. He gulped visibly as he followed the unconscious gesture of provocation. He wanted to catch that tongue of hers in his mouth, he wanted to desperately touch his lips to hers, wet them with his tongue. In fact he wanted nothing more at this time than to devour her slowly and steadily.
Arnav was not sure what was happening to him but he was sure he didn’t want to let her go. He’d never felt this immense tug of desire before. He’d been around women since his teenage years and knew what it was to be in lust, but this was something completely different. He felt aroused beyond his wildest expectations. And he felt this for this girl – the girl he wasn’t even sure he liked! He could feel her trembling; what made her tremble- was it the fear that she felt or was she feeling the same that he was?
Man, this was getting a little out of hand! A part of his brain rang warning bells and screamed to let her go; she was dangerous while a part of him wanted to glue her to his body so close that they’d become one. Alarmed at such emotions being aroused in him, Arnav immediately let her go.
She moved away as quickly as possible from him as soon as he removed his arms from around her. She still couldn’t look at him. Gathering her courage in her hands, she did the only thing she thought was sensible. She walked as fast as her legs would carry her. As she went out of sight, she looked back once, met his eyes and then turned around the corner. Arnav watched her disappearing from his sight with a brooding expression on his face.
Khushi jerked back to her senses and jumped away from the window as if burned. Her whole body was shaking from the memory of that first close physical encounter. She groaned loudly at her body’s state of arousal. Damn the man! She could do without this feeling for the moment when everything in her life seemed confusing to her.
She gave herself a mental kick as she climbed into the bed. She was about to switch off the bedside lamp when the cell phone rang. Khushi glanced at the bedside clock. It was almost past midnight. Who would ring her at this time of the night? She glanced at the phone and her heart started galloping as she saw the name on her screen. Arnav Singh Raizada. Khushi turned away from the phone, ignoring it once- twice. The third time it rang, she picked it up annoyed with him and herself, only to hear him say huskily,
“Missing me yet?”
Once inside the house, Khushi immediately went in search of her grandmother and Payal. She was shaking from the encounter. Oh how could she have- why did she have to feel this pull towards that hateful man! She will never forgive him. He could say sorry till he was blue in the face and she’d not relent! NEVER!
She found Payal, her grandmother and Mallika all sitting together. They looked up as she went in and Mallika exclaimed first, “Where the hell did you go off to? Everyone wanted to meet you and congratulate you but you just have to go off in your own world! Where the hell have you been and why are you panting?”
Khushi put a hand on her head as dizziness was close by. All three women stood up immediately from their respective places, exclaiming in concern. Mrs Gupta had of coure, already guessed what had happened and knew that sooner or later this stage would have arrived. She’d have preferred later but the youth today was so impatient! Ah these young lovers!
Khushi could feel darkness enveloping her. Payal swore softly under her breath and held her tight. She made her sit down while Mallika ran to get her a glass of water. When she came back, Khushi was still lying on the sofa with her eyes closed. Baffled, Mallika asked Payal, “What’s wrong with her? She was fine all this time and now.. what has happened to her Payal di?”
Payal made Mallika sit down who looked like she’d burst into tears. “It’s nothing. You know how Khushi is, she’d run around and then fall down exhausted. That’s all. Maybe we should just call it a day and take her home. After all, we have to be back here tomorrow for your engagement ceremony.”
Mallika looked somewhat comforted by Payal’s words but Khushi felt like someone was pushing her deeper into the quagmire of hurt. She opened her eyes and exclaimed, “I want to go home now Jiji. Take me home now.” she looked at Mallika and composed her features desperately, “I’ll see you tomorrow morning, okay? Come home.”
Mallika hugged her once and let her go. Mrs. Gupta clucked like mother hen as Payal helped Khushi into the car. Once home Khushi couldn’t wait to go into her room. Mrs. Gupta asked her if she wanted to eat something but Khushi declined. She just wanted to rest and be alone. Payal looked at her worriedly as he climbed up the stairs to go into her room.
“I hope Arnavji knows what he is doing. How could he have just come out like that grandma? He should’ve done it when we were present.”
Mrs Gupta sat down in her favourite chair and picked up her knitting. “No Payal. It is for the best that he met her alone. They need to do this by themselves. Young love needs some privacy. Khushi is very private when it comes to her emotions, my dear. She may not be as mature and sensible yet as you are when it comes to feelings and expressing those feelings but she definitely would feel humiliated if Arnav would meet her in front of us and try to explain or ask for her forgiveness.”
Payal sighed and looked up at Khushi’s room. The door was closed and all was quiet. “Maybe you’re right grandma. Khushi does keep to herself when it comes to her feelings. I just hope she’s alright.”
“Leave her alone and she will be. She’s nothing if not strong, my granddaughter.” Mrs Gupta announced, her hands busy knitting but her mind working toward a plan. No one need know yet how she could help them but help them she would.
Khushi fell on her bed after she’d taken off her evening finery and had a shower. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t remove the feel of Arnav’s hands on her shoulders, her hands, her face, her waist. He was so much a part of her that every time she touched herself in those areas, she could feel his touch. She had cried in the shower and called him names, trying in vain to scrub herself where he’d touch, to remove the feel of his hands but she couldn’t.
How was she going to live the rest of her life is just one meeting with him put her right on the edge of insanity? If such a time came again and she accepted his plea would he leave his judgement on the side and stand by her, supporting her? No, she didn’t think that would be how Arnav Singh Raizada would behave. He would probably call her names again and she would be humiliated again, he would break her heart again if she gave him the chance.
Tears welled up in her eyes again and she angrily wiped them away. Did he even – had she been so wrong when she’d fallen for him? Had she mistaken the lust in his eyes as love? She got up from the bed and went to sit down on the indoor swing by the window and held her head in her hands. She had to be strong; she had to learn to be strong. She couldn’t give in no matter how many times he asked for forgiveness. He didn’t trust her and that, in her book was the basis enough to break all contact with him.
Restlessness seemed to be her companion for tonight. Khushi got up and added a shawl to her attire of silk pyjamas in baby blue before getting out of the house and going towards Sophie’s kennel. It was summer and the air was cooler than normal but Khushi loved the weather in Nainital. She whistled to call Sophie who came racing to be with her mistress. Khushi bent down on one knee and rubbed her ears, “Yes, I know, I know. I didn’t see you today but you know how it was today. Today was for Mallika. Want to go walking with me girl?”
At Sophie’s enthusiastic bark, Khushi smiled and started walking. Sophie ran rings around her, woofing, finding a stick now and then and bringing it for Khushi to throw. It was fun to play with her and after a while, Khushi laughed loudly, “You always want more, don’t you darling.. greedy bitch!” Slowly, Khushi found herself relaxing and coming back to her normal self. Sophie always had a calming effect on her.
“Come then, it’s late and time to go in.” saying this, Khushi led Sophie back in the house.
The jitters that had plagued her last evening returned in full force when Khushi woke up and thought about getting ready to attend Mallika’s engagement. She couldn’t- she won’t be able to face him again, she was sure! He would be there and how could she avoid him when he’d be present in front of her eyes all the time? He would be there, he would be watching her and she- no, she couldn’t do this to herself again.
Still in bed, she called up Mallika’s private line. She knew her friend would be up by now, shouting orders at everyone around. “Hey there pretty girl. How’s things coming along?” Khushi spoke as Mallika picked up the phone.
“Argh! No, no you can’t put that vase here in my room Shruti! I am not as sophisticated as you are. I’m sure to break it. Plus orchids don’t match my mood. I need sunflowers today. Yellow in red and if you can’t do it, to hell with Mum’s instructions, I’ll get up and do it myself. What say?” Mallika spoke to someone, her voice hopeful.
Khushi knew the one who was being cajoled into removing Mrs Negi’s favourite orchids from Mallika’s room- Shruti; Mallika’s younger sister. There was a time when Shruti was the more dominant of the two sisters but tables had turned last season with Shruti failing badly at luring NK away from Mallika because she thought he wasn’t good enough for her sister and both sisters confronting each other. Shruti had finally learnt her lesson and since then on, two sisters behaved quite amicably towards each other.
“If you’d stop instructing her long enough and let the orchids be, auntyji herself would remove them.” Khushi spoke into Mallika’s ear, grinning to herself.
“Khushi, my love!” Mallika’s cheerful greeting came forth. “Are you getting ready to come here? I need your help on so many things I tell you! The engagement dress has arrived and the jewellery is still lying around in one of the cupboards. I don’t remember where. And the make-up girl is about to come in by 11 and I have to be ready by 1:30. I swear to God Khushi, I’m very nervous today! Come soon yaar.”
The grin faded from Khushi’s face. “Mallika, I don’t think I can come. Is it okay if Payal jiji comes and helps you out?”
WHAT!” Mallika’s voice crossed the octave at Khushi’s words. “What do you mean you can’t come? Can’t come right now or can’t come—Khushi don’t tease me!”
Khushi’s voice wobbled. She knew she was letting her friend down but she had to be selfish, she HAD to protect herself from Arnav. She didn’t want to break into pieces again. “Mallilka, honey I wouldn’t tease you on something as serious as this. I mean it. I can’t come to the engagement party. I’ve got to get out of town due to urgent work.”
“I’m coming over.” Mallika simply stated and hung up..bringing full fledged panic into Khushi’s room.
If Mallika came over, there’d be no way she’d let Khushi get away from the engagement. Khushi got up quickly, washed and dressed herself into jeans and a sunny yellow Tee. She had to get out of the house; grandma and Payal could handle Mallika for now. She’d explain later. Adding a sweatshirt over her T-shirt, she ran downstairs to get out but was too late. Mallika was already there, sitting on the sofa with her grandmother, her face red with exertion. She must have driven real fast if she was here in less than 15 minutes! Khushi stopped as she heard her grandmother talk,
“Mallika, there are things about Khushi that are unpredictable. She was sick yesterday and worried about something too. I didn’t think too much on it but now I believe her worries must be related to work.”
“ I don’t care naniji, I will not let her go anywhere today! How can she do this to me naniji.. it’s one of the most important days of my life and my best friend, the only one I’ve had from childhood now tells me she can’t attend my engagement! How unfair is that?” Tears weren’t far away.
Khushi made a move to go forward when she saw Mallika starting to tear up. “Mallika, let me explain. Please darling, you don’t have to upset.”
Mallika whirled around, her eyes full of tears and blazing, You Khushi Kumari Gupta are going to attend my wedding. You get that? I won’t let you go.”
Khushi sighed, “Mallika-“ she tried to explain. Mallika of course, was in no mood to listen. Hysteria was not far behind as she got up.
“You have to come to my engagement party Khushi! I’d never forgive you otherwise. You’re the one who made me and NK confess our love. “Mallika stamped her feet in annoyance and looked at her grandmother. “Naniji, I insist! Please tell her that she’s to come to my engagement party along with the rest of you guys. If she doesn’t I’m not getting engaged. Let NK wait forever!”
Khushi gasped at her friend’s declaration. She’d never thought Mallika would throw such a threat. She went forward, her hands held out, “darling, please! Don’t do this, I’m sorry but-“
“Khushi, I wish to speak to you alone. Mallika, sit here and calm down child. Khushi will attend your engagement party, I promise.” Mrs Gupta spoke quietly but firmly.
“But-“ Khushi tried but had to quiet down with a glare from her grandmother. Mrs Gupta got up and asked Khushi to come along with her. Together, they went into Mrs. Gupta’s room. “Close the door child.” Mrs. Gupta instructed. When Khushi had done that, she patted the side by her sofa. Khushi went and sat down next to her grandmother.
Mrs. Gupta began carefully, keeping her face devoid of any expression, “Khushi, I need an honest answer. Is your decision based on the fact that you ex-fiance is here to attend the engagement?”
Khushi could only gape at her grandmother, with no words coming out her mouth. As if she had spoken her assent, Mrs Gupta continued, “Do you want the world to see Khushi as a weakling? Do you want him to see you as a weakling who backs out of a social event simply because he is around? It is none of my business to know what happened between the two of you and why things stand the way they do but child, I must say I thought you were stronger. You back out of your best friend’s engagement event simply because he is around and you fear he may try talking to you?”
“Grandma- how- you- did he- “Khushi seemed unable to formulate much words, forget asking a question. Grandmother put a hand on her shoulder, “He had called on Payal to let her know that he was in town. He doesn’t you that you’re here Khushi.”
“He does now, grandmother.” Khushi whispered, her throat clogged with tears. At her grandmother’s questioning eyes, she clarified, “I saw him yesterday, he came up to talk to me, said he- he wanted me back.”
“He did? And what did you say child?” Mrs Gupta was outwardly calm as a rock but feared her granddaughter’s reaction inwardly.
“I told him it was impossible for us to get together again. He has said some things that are unforgivable grandmother, I can’t-“
Khushi couldn’t go on as tears rained down her face. Her grandmother nodded sagely and said, “well, if you can’t then you can’t. But does that mean you hide away. I have never taught you to run away from adverse times Khushi. You can’t let your own problems ruin your best friend’s engagement day, can you darling?”
Khushi remained silent, her head down, tears falling. Mrs Gupta squeezed her hand and sighed, “Well, if you really think you can’t face him at a social event where there’d be so many people around you , it’s alright. I’ll try and explain it to Mallika. She may be upset but she’ll come around eventually. Don’t worry child. You go on out to where ever it is you were going.”
Mrs Gupta made to get up after patting Khushi’s hand but Khushi held on. Mrs Gupta sat down again. Khushi put her head in Mrs Gupta’s lap. “I’m scared grandmother. I was hurt badly before. I don’t want to hurt again. I do not – he was – he said he loved me but-“
Mrs Gupta said some choice words under her breath that no woman of her age would utter and then tried to calm her granddaughter. “In life, there are many problems that may crop up and you may feel that it is the end of your life. But it never is. Every attempt that is made to pull you down should make you more determined to get up and move on. You’re a brave one my child. Don’t let anyone pull you down and despair. Get up and face the world like you’ve always done- with smile and spirit. One more thing Khushi- sometimes, people may make mistakes and judge you unfairly. But you may be called equally unfair if you don’t give them their chance of forgiveness. If he wants to talk, let him do so. Give him the chance to explain.”
Khushi looked up, “you really think so? He was cruel to me grandma. Why shouldn’t I be equally cruel to him? He didn’t even look for me when I left! Now that he has found me, he thinks he can take up from where we left off. I don’t- I can’t.”
“Tell him that then child. Tell him it is impossible for you to forgive him so easily for whatever it is that he has done. He was cruel to you, you say. Is it in your nature to be cruel to people you love?” At a startled glance from Khushi, Mrs. Gupta smiled and continued, “I know my child. I know you love him despite all that may have happened between you two. Maybe you should let him know that he will have to earn your forgiveness.”
“And trust grandma?” Khushi asked.
“And trust.” Her grandmother affirmed. “Love is just a word if there is no trust in the relationship. Face him if you have to, if he comes to talk to you and explain this to him. Let the ball fall in his court and wait for his reaction.”
“I don’t know grandma. I’m scared. I have no answers, I am confused. I don’t know if I still love him or not. I don’t know if the hurt I still feel would ever fade away. I don’t even know if I can ever forgive him.” Khushi said. Mrs Gupta laid her hand on Khushi’s head and caressed her hair, “Darling, if you’re scared, you’re not chicken. You’re brave because you are scared and you know it. The thing to do is to face it. Hmm?”
“Khushi stayed quiet for a while, resting her head on her grandmother’s lap and enjoying the love her grandmother showered over her. Then some inner resolve seemed to toughen her. She got up and hugger her grandmother. “Thank you grandmother for being there for me, for not asking me questions and just letting me be.”
“That’s what elders are here for darling. “Mrs Gupta said smiling, her relief plainly there for Khushi to see in that smile. Not that she understood the real reason behind the relief. ‘Now go on out and pacify your friend. Then get ready and we’ll head out to Negi residence. And remember, if you need me, I’m here for you. Have been and always will be. This is your house just as much as it is mine and your refuge from all evils of the world.”
“Oh grandma, I love you! Thank you so much for being there.” Khushi hugged her grandmother, tears filling her eyes again. Both grandmother and granddaughter then wiped each other’s tears and smiled. Slowly they got up and went outside where Mallika was waiting, watching the TV and biting her nails.
As she heard them approaching, she switched the TV off and came forward, “Naniji…”
Khushi quickly came forward and hugged her friend, “I’m sorry for hurting you Mallika, today of all days too! Forgive me?”
Mallika’s eyes narrowed, “ I will if it means you will come to my engagement party and stay glued to me all day long.”
“Done deal!” Khushi smiled widely, making Mallika break into sobs and hugging her. “Thank you Khushi. I was – I didn’t want to face this day without you.”
“Hey, shhh.. it’s alright. Am going to be with you. Am so sorry for putting you through all this today. Now wipe your tears before you get puffy eyes and red nose!”
Khushi quickly hugged her friend tight and further added, “ Let me throw some clothes in a bag and we’ll leave for your place. Grandmother and Payal will follow later.”
Mrs Gupta nodded and hugged Mallika too. “Be happy child. Go on now both of you. We’ll be there soon.”
As the girls went out of the house, Mrs Gupta picked up the phone. It was time for her to talk to Mr Raizada about the next step.