The soft rays of the sun streaming through the open bay windows woke Khushi gently. She was so warm and comfortable, she thought with a smile. She snuggled deeper, putting one hand under her cheek, and froze when she encountered … hair?? Alert within seconds, she slowly opened one eye and then another and saw a manly chest under her face, her hand lay on the exposed skin where the buttons had opened. The slow rhythmic motion of his chest as he breathed fascinated Khushi and she started, a part of her also embarrassed to wake him up. She remembered speaking to him from her perch on the sofa last night, while he worked at the desk. When had he joined her on the sofa and taken her weight on to himself? She tried to remember.
She extricated her hand from between her face and his chest, and slowly lifted her weight off him, being careful not to wake him. And she would have succeeded, had the door not been banged open and a worried Payaj jiji stormed in. Arnav too sat up with a jerk, dislodging Khushi as she was trying to move off the sofa very carefully.
‘Khushi’, jiji came rushing into the room, and stopped in her tracks when she came upon the sight on them on the sofa – Khushi on the floor and Arnav sitting on the sofa a bit dazed.
‘What has he done to you now?’ jiji hissed angrily, moving closer, her hands on her waist. “Can’t you leave her alone?’ she turned towards Arnav angrily, ‘Haven’t you done enough already?’
A dazed Khushi looked from her jiji to Arnav on the sofa, noting his expression of astonishment slowly turning to anger.
‘I...’ he started only to have jiji cut him short ‘When will you stop torturing her… what has she ever done to you? Took your money to teach your girlfriend? Well, she is worth a hundred of you… who has been taking all the humiliation you and your family have been dishing out to her … and what was her mistake… that she wanted her father to maintain his self respect, to be free of all loans and problems …’ There was no stopping jiji.
Khushi groaned and held her head. She had never ever seen jiji so livid before. ‘And I don’t even have to look up to see what the expression will be on the Lord Governors face’, she added.
‘They are your family too, now,’ came a soft lethal voice from somewhere above Khushi’s head. Don’t tell me! Arnav, thought to himself… both of them had the habit of cutting his sentences even before he spoke them!
‘Yes, I know they are, and …’
‘JIJI’ this time it was Khushi who cut her mid sentence.
‘No Khushi,’ jiji stopped her, ‘its time someone told this ‘rakshash’ …
‘ENOUGH’ Arnav stood up with a jerk, nearly dislodging Khushi again from between the coffee table and the sofa. Picking up his coat from the floor, he stormed past a shocked jiji and out of the study. They both started when they heard his bedroom door slam with a loud bang.
Jiji came rushing to the sofa, and gently asked Khushi is she was okay.
‘He said something to you last night too, didn’t he,’ jiji questioned as soon as they were back in Khushi’s room. She intercom-ed someone to bring in tea, and Khushi thought distractedly, how comfortably her sister had slid into her role as the daughter-in-law of the house. ‘I came at night when I saw you missing outside…’
‘Nahin, jiji’, Khushi tried to calm her down. ‘My feet were really hurting …’ she stopped as memories of how he had made her wear her sandals came rushing back… and of what followed.
Why was she always forgiving him? She had her list of atrocities he had done against her… she could recite it by heart. But whenever he was close, all her sanity would just fly out of the window.
And last night, when he had kissed her … Khushi blushed as she recalled her own reaction to him… she had again forgotten everything when he had held her at the poolside. She had so yearned not to be alone, that she had actually spent time with him and not argued or fought… And snuggled and fallen asleep in his arms, also, a sly voice added.
Now he will have so much more to add to my character graph! she groaned inwardly.
There was a knock on the door, and Khushi watched jiji busy herself with preparing the tea, as she herself ran into the bathroom to brush and wash.
On the other side of the house Arnav smashed his clenched fist into the bathroom wall, and cursed as he stood in front of the mirror seething with anger. ‘Who the hell did they both think they were’ And here he had been so repentant of his earlier behaviour… HELL! He had even said sorry …
He remembered the time he spent with Khushi last night; while she cooked … she ate … and then curled up with his coat on the sofa. She had been telling him about her sisters wedding; her father’s shop; working at his house with Lavanya … and he had only just been listening, as he had watched her completely enthralled.
He had not been able to stop himself, when he saw her slump from the armrest as she fell asleep in that awkward position. He had gotten up and sat at one end of the sofa gently lifted her into his arms. As she snuggled into his chest immediately, Arnav felt an unexpected warmth spread through him, and shut his eyes as he threw his head back.
And that is when he had been rudely woken up by a screaming Payal. With a frown he suddenly realized that Payal was also saying something about their father’s shop… or was it a loan? He shrewdly tried to put the two conversations together to make sense.
Suddenly, he spun around and walked out of the bathroom, to where his phone lay on the nightstand. Dialing a number he spoke curtly to the person on the other side, issuing instructions while giving details of a certain sweet shop in Lucknow.
‘Khushi!’ jiji’s exasperated voice brought Khushi back from her daydreaming, as she continued to get dressed.
‘Hum baat kar rahen hian tumse…’ she reminded pointedly. ‘I asked you, how you ended up in the study with him at night?’
‘Vo… Jiji… hum…’ Khushi hemmed, trying to evade a direct answer. Finally realizing there would be no getting away, she decided to be honest, telling jiji all about walking to pool, being rescued; feeling hungry; not wanting to be alone in the silence of the night; and finally falling asleep on the sofa.
‘He didn’t say anything, jiji.’ She reiterated. ‘In fact he was uncommonly quite civil,’ she added tongue in cheek.
‘Hope I didn’t say too much,’ Jiji now fretted, recalling her angry outburst earlier. After all he was her brother-in-law now, and as he had reminded her, this was her family.
‘That’s okay, jiji,’ Khushi walked over and put her arms around Payal’s shoulder. ‘When has he ever known his limits or spoken properly, the Lord Governor! He deserved every word,’ she giggled remembering his anger at not being able to speak once again.
‘Accha, chalo, lets go get some breakfast,’ she changed the topic. ‘Is Akash sir… oh, Akash jiju, joining us?’ Khushi felt guilty at monopolizing jiji when her husband would have wanted her with him in the morning.
Since Khushi had already bathed and changed, while jiji had been in her room, they both went off to the kitchen to get breakfast organized.
Akash joined them in the kitchen, and Khushi watched indulgently as both her quiet sister and the even quieter Akash sir kept giving each other loving looks all the while. ‘I have to get used to not calling him ‘sir’, she reminded herself.
‘Is Arnav joining us?’ Payal asked Akash shyly, as she got the table laid for four.
Three of them stood around the table, when the object of their discussion stormed into the dining room, and demanded that his breakfast be sent to the study and stormed out, before anyone could react.
Khushi was the first to react, by pulling out her tongue and scrunching her nose towards his retreating back. The last thing she expected was him to turn around and catch her mid-expression like that! She froze as he glared at her and slowly pulled her tongue back in, her wide eyes staring back at him with trepidation. Once again Arnav turned his back to them and continued his walk out of the room. None of them saw the lopsided smile that suddenly came on his face as he retreated into his study.
Since eating always de-stressed Khushi, breakfast was a joyful affair, with a lot of chatting and laughing. Akash silently marveled at the positive energy that Khushi emanated and how her presence just changed the atmosphere of the house. His lovely wife had agitated all night about not being able to speak to Khushi during the reception and also afterwards. He had generously sent her down to check on Khushi the minute they had woken up. Even Arnav’s sullen behaviour had not dampened their enthusiasm, and he hoped that Khushi would agree to stay with them for a few days at least. The sisters were now planning their day, and he joined in promising to take them to the nearby Chattarpur mandir and then chaat afterwards.
They had returned from an exhausting but fun filled visit to the mandir followed by a long drive towards Gurgaon.
Arnav was walking out of his study when he met them laughing and walking in at the front door. Payal and Khushi’s laughter died on their lips, as they stopped to watch him walk past them informing Akash curtly that he was leaving for a meeting.
The minute he stepped out into the porch, Arnav heard them resume their giggling as he walked furiously towards his car. Was that jealousy eating at him, a voice asked? Don’t you want to be that person with whom she finds such joy… he had never ever felt or experienced this unbridled laughter.
Khushi had retired for the night after spending a wonderful day with jiji. With no Arnav around, they had spent a very relaxed evening. Akash had left them also after dinner, to chat a while in Khushi’s room, while she got ready for bed. Jiji had systematically folded all Khushi’s clothes, as they spoke, and Khushi recalled nostalgically how this had been a ritual with them during their growing up years.
She slept finally, tried, but with a smile on her face. Both jiji and Akash jiju had been coercing her all day to extend her stay for a while, and much as she was tempted, Khushi wanted to go back home to amma-babuji and her familiar Lucknow.
It was the pitter-patter of rain that woke Khushi up sometime later during the night. She got out of bed and ran towards the windows taking in the sight that was in front of her. Excited she opened the windows and without a single thought stepped out into rain, her arms out-stretched and head thrown back. Laughing merrily she twirled around as the hard drops hit her face with a steady beat. The moonlight cast a silvery glow to the dimly lit pool area as Khushi ran skipping from one puddle of water to another, enjoying herself with abandon.
At the other end of the pool, the SUV pulled into the garage across the lawns and dumping his coat in the car itself, Arnav made a dash across the pool towards the dry haven of his room. ‘What ill timing’, he cursed his impulsive decision to come back here and not go home to the Raizada Mansion.
Stopping to take shelter against a small cabana on one side of the pool, Arnav peered through the sheets of rain to gauge how far it was to his room, and that is when he saw her. She was completely drenched to the bone in her soft pink night salwar kameeze. Her arms were outstretched and her face was turned up towards the sky as if receiving a benefaction from the gods! Arnav just stood and stared at the uninhibited joy that shone on her face. ‘Was that music playing somewhere’, he wondered as violins began to strum inside his head.
Sensing his presence Khushi turned towards the cabana slowly and saw his shadowy figure leaning against the wall. She walked towards him hesitatingly to be sure that is was really him and not a figment of her imagination.
When she neared and saw it was Arnav, she smiled and motioned gracefully with her hands, for him to come out and join her. Like a machine on remote control, Arnav stepped into the rain and towards her. As always, there was nothing around him but Khushi at that moment. He was like a puppet and the strings were in those hands right now.
She grabbed both his hands in hers and pulling him towards her continued her twirling ignorant of the effect she was having on him. Arnav swallowed hard and tried to get his attention away from that delectable body partially visible under her drenched clothes. Suddenly aware of his silence and stalled movement, Khushi stopped, realizing where they were.
They started at each other in the rain, holding hands, letting the water wash down their faces. It was Arnav who tugged gently at her hands and pulled her towards himself, till she came to a stop millimeters away from his drenched torso.
Khushi could only stare as his eyes held her completely enthralled. Slowly, his eyes never leaving hers, he took her right hand and placed it on his shoulder, while his own he placed on her waist, where it applied gentle pressure to bring her flush into his own body. He continued to hold on to her other hand as he moved slowly to the damn music in his brain, never breaking eye contact with her.
He saw with raw pleasure, the effect his proximity was having on her, as her eyes left his to close in a swoon. He immediately moved closer placing his wet cheek against hers, practically fusing them together. She was soft and pliant against him, and he bent a little and placed tiny kisses on the exposed part of her neck and shoulder. Khushi shivered and moved closer, now clutching him with both her hands. With his other hand also free now, Arnav held her head gently while he continued to graze sensuously at her sensitive skin.
When she felt herself backed up against a wall, did Khushi open her eyes and look at him. He had deftly moved them away from the rain and sheltered against the wall. He had stopped kissing her neck and was looking down at her with his desire filled eyes. ‘We need to talk’, he whispered huskily taking in her drugged expression, his one thought only to possess her.
‘Ummmmm…’ Khushi murmured wondering why he had stopped kissing her, all rationality leaving her at that moment.
‘Khushi,’ he groaned, seeing the longing in her eyes. It was taking all of his self-control not to take those trembling lips for his own right now, and she was not helping one bit.
With a hoarse cry of defeat, he decided to deal with what was going on between them later, and took those soft lips against his in a passionate kiss. Khushi’s own lips parted as a tremor passed through her. That was all the invitation Arnav needed, as he deepened the kiss and pressed her into the wall behind her, with all his weight.
‘What are you doing to me?’ he asked softly after a while, lifting his lips from her still quivering ones. ‘I can’t get one straight thought into my head, when I look at you’ ‘you are haunting my every living moment…’
Pleased at seeing the effect he was having on her; the unfocussed look on her face, Arnav took the decision to continue this talk at a later date. He gently picked her up and strode towards her room, where he took her straight to the bathroom and draped a fluffy towel around her.
She kept staring at him, as if she had never seen him before, and Arnav halted his thoughts, which had already carried her across to that bed in her room.
‘No,’ he thought with some resolution. ‘It was not going to be like this’. He wanted to make it perfect for her, when they finally became each other’s completely.
‘Will you be okay’, he asked her gently watching her standing there like a sad drenched pup. Khushi could only nod, as she felt incapable of any speech right now.
‘We’ll talk tomorrow, then,’ he promised and walked out of her room, before he could regret his decision and watch his resolve crumble.