“Huh! What?” Arnav jumped up in his bed, looking around wildly at the sudden sound that had jerked him awake. He turned sideways and fumbled with the alarm clock sitting on the bedside table. Reading the time with his bleary eyes, he cursed out aloud. It was 5:00 in the morning. Who the hell was ringing the bell at such an ungodly hour? Grumbling loudly to himself, Arnav got out of his bed and grabbed his robe.
Arnav noticed Oscar sleeping soundly in his little wicker basket and frowned. Wasn’t the calling bell loud enough for the lazy pup to wake up and at least bark a couple of times at the unwelcome company? Shaking his head in exasperation, Arnav made his way towards the foyer of his private elevator. Since it needed a code and not everyone was privy to that information, this had to be a stranger who had instead taken the stairs from the floor below. He registered a faint sense of happiness at the realisation.
“Yeah yeah, I’m coming!” Arnav growled irritably. “Keep your pants on-” he opened the door and stopped in the middle of his sentence, gaping.
Standing in front of him was Khushi dressed in a tee shirt and jeans and holding up her right arm in an awkward angle. A white gauge bandage was wound around her elbow and an almost round red coloured mark bang in the middle that looked like… blood! Her face had faint bruise-like red marks around the cheeks and the forehead. It looked as if she had been in an accident!
“Oh my pants are on Mr. Raizada, albeit with a little difficulty,” Khushi winced visibly.
“Oh my goodness!” Arnav exclaimed, all signs of sleep having evaporated instantly. “Ms. Gupta! What happened to you?” he asked flabbergasted, the annoyance at being woken up having dissolved in worry. Khushi stared at him.
“Uhm, good morning to you too,” she replied, not answering his question. “May I come in?” she asked pointedly.
Arnav smacked himself on the forehead. “Yes, of course!” he stepped aside motioning her inside. Khushi looked around at the grey foyer interestedly. There was a giant mirror bang opposite the entrance from she had just entered. Right next to the door were two metal doors, quite possibly the private elevator that she hadn’t been able to access. The door at the end of the foyer led to the living room which was also done in tones of black, grey and white.
Suddenly out of nowhere, Oscar came running towards Khushi and jumped at her. “OSCAR!! Oh my sweetheart!” she exclaimed happily and hugged the pup as best as she could with her left arm.
“Oscar, heel boy,” Arnav suddenly commanded much to Khushi’s surprise. She raised her eyebrow but he didn’t notice. He sat down in the sofa next to hers, his gaze still fixed on her bandages. “Ms. Gupta, what happened to you?” he ventured again.
“I had an accident Mr. Raizada. Oh nothing to worry about. It’s not that serious as it looks,” she added as she saw Arnav’s eyes widen in worry. Oscar bound on the sofa next to Khushi and cuddled close to her, but Arnav didn’t reprimand it. In fact, he couldn’t see the dog on his favourite couch; he was too shaken up to notice anything other than Khushi’s bandaged arm.
“An accident?” he repeated faintly. “How?”
“Oh uhm… a guy collided with me in the supermarket,” Khushi replied vaguely. As Arnav frowned at her in confusion, she sighed. “Okay, I collided with a guy in the supermarket.” Arnav’s eyebrows rose up at this.
“You see there was a sale on Swiss chocolates at the end of the aisle,” Khushi launched cautiously, “and I was racing there on my trolley when this moron rushed from another side. And before I could control my trolley, I collided heavily with him. You know the tiles on the floors of supermarkets these days! No traction whatsoever! How is someone supposed to stop in time?” she babbled. By then, Arnav’s eyebrows had disappeared into his hairline. But apparently there was more to come as she didn’t wait for an answer.
“And then of course I wanted to fight over the last box of chocolates but unfortunately the trolley was on top of me and I couldn’t move and I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I was like this is it! You know? This is how I’m going to die; in an aisle in a supermarket with a trolley sitting on my chest. But that of course was just the concussion on the head making me all you know…” Khushi motioned to show a loose screw in her head.
Arnav was gaping at her incredulously by then. He didn’t know whether to laugh at her story or sigh in exasperation. How was it that the weirdest things managed to happen to her only? She was cuckoo in her head alright and he wasn’t sure if it started just after the accident.
“You have been gone a long time. When exactly did this happen?” he asked curiously.
“I was out of town before. This happened yesterday morning. Apparently the mart attendants thought I might have got some head problem and they called for an ambulance. So one moment I was sprawled on the supermarket floor and the next time I opened my eyes I was in a hospital bed. They called up my sister’s number to inform her about my condition and then we ended up talking for over half an hour catching up with what was happening with each other’s life,” Khushi beamed a happy smile.
Arnav pursed his lips and leaned back on the sofa. “And that was when the head nurse took my phone away,” her smile suddenly turned into a pout, like a sullen little child. “She wasn’t very friendly,” Khushi concluded hugging Oscar and puckering up her lips at him. “I got all your messages pretty late at night when I was finally released to go home,” she added casually.
Arnav stilled at the reference and looked at her warily. The messages weren’t that friendly either, well at least the last ones definitely weren’t. He started to say something but Khushi continued her one sided conversation.
“And of course when I heard you were having troubles with Oscar, I had to come right away to pick him up, hadn’t I? Goody boy, oh my goody boy. Who’s my goody goody boy?” she suddenly gurgled in baby talk addressing the pup, who licked her nose enthusiastically proceeding to her cheeks. Arnav felt his lips curving up in a smile witnessing the endearing scene.
“I was petrified of some of your messages, to be honest. You sounded scary,” Khushi admitted making the smile on Arnav’s face die down instantly.
“I apologize, Ms. Gupta,” Arnav muttered croakily, having managed to say the first word since he had welcomed her inside his home. “I’m truly very sorry. I didn’t know that you had a reason for not calling me back. I just went on assuming something else…” his voice trailed off sheepishly. Khushi looked at him straight in the eye. Oscar had gone on to lick her arm and was trailing down to the bandage on her elbow.
“Oh well, I’m sorry too Mr. Raizada. I should have wrestled that phone from that Hitler nurse and called you back,” she said simply, but Arnav shook his head fervently.
“You couldn’t. There was no possibility of doing that of course. I should really control my outbursts really without gathering all the facts first,” he admitted apologetically. Khushi felt her lips curve up slightly.
“May I have a glass of water please Mr. Raizada?” she suddenly requested.
“Of course, Ms. Gupta. Would you prefer sparkling or still?” he asked jumping up from the sofa instantly. He looked adorable with his ruffled just-out-of-bed hair and his eyes darting wildly about in concern. Dressed in simple black PJs, he didn’t look like the ruthless businessman at all.
“Sparkling please,” Khushi replied, checking herself just in time from smiling. Arnav nodded and walked off towards the kitchen allowing her to direct her attention around the house. She was sitting in the lounge. To her right was a pristine white dining table set and behind her to the right was the kitchen where Arnav was filling a glass of water for her. To her left was an expanse of open space. She could see another sitting lounge some distance away. Next to it was a grand piano. An intricate staircase wound upstairs. The entire house was spotless and was done in tones of black and grey alone. The only colour was being lent by the excess of vegetation outside in the verandah with some sun shades and recliners.
“Here you go,” Arnav handed her a glass of sparkling clear water.
“You have a beautiful home,” Khushi complimented taking a sip of the delicious cold water.
“Thank you, Ms. Gupta,” he replied.
“Who plays the piano?” she suddenly asked pointing to the grand piano at the end. She remembered Arnav’s aversion to music very clearly. To her surprise, he looked visibly uncomfortable.
“I used to,” he admitted. Khushi stared at him pleasantly surprised.
“Uhm, please give me a minute,” he suddenly clapped his hands and Oscar ran down from the sofa and towards the French windows beyond the dining table out to the verandah. Khushi looked at the pair curiously. Oscar seemed to be relieving himself on a bed of earth just outside the door as Arnav stood by patiently. “Good boy, Oscar,” he praised faintly and ruffled Oscar’s head affectionately before leading him inside.
It was Khushi’s turn to be stunned at this spectacle. It was almost as if Arnav was the owner and Oscar was his dog! Soon the pup was back, cozying up next to Khushi.
“I hope Oscar hasn’t been too much of a pain, Mr. Raizada,” she apologized. But to her further astonishment, Arnav actually smiled back at her. WHOA! Cute alert!
“Well there were some hiccups to begin with but I think we like each other now. Actually… it was good having him around. Reminded me of my childhood days,” he said, looking at Oscar who was again busily licking Khushi’s bandage. Khushi’s heart beats raced instantly at the mention of Arnav’s childhood.
“Oh yeah, you had dogs back then too right?” she remarked casually.
“Yeah. I had a beautiful Labrador. Roger,” Arnav replied reminiscently. “Despite it being a lab, he was one of the most active dogs you’d ever meet.” Then his eyes darkened and his smile faded. “Me and my sister often fought over who’d get to walk him after coming back from school.”
Then Arnav’s smiling face slowly hardened. “My father had him put down when it was 9 years old because apparently he wasn’t interested enough to have veterinary attention given to Roger.” Khushi’s eyes widened slightly. Breakthrough!
“Well, that is most unfortunate,” she agreed. Arnav pursed his lips – an indication that he was getting uncomfortable with the direction of their conversation. And sure enough the very next moment-
“Thank you for dropping by Ms. Gupta. I apologize again that my urgency had to drag you out so early in the morning in your condition like this,” he muttered curtly, shutters down on his eyes again. And that’s my que! Khushi thought to herself. She immediately got up from her seat.
“I should have called before coming,” she replied apologetically and held up her arm awkwardly. Arnav stared at it and frowned slightly.
“Ms. Gupta, how are you going to take care of Oscar with your injuries?” he asked as Khushi started making her way towards Oscar’s wicker basket next to the staircase.
“Oh it is no trouble. I’ve my niece staying with me. And between the two of us, Oscar will be fine,” Khushi replied, picking the basket up by its handle and started walking back towards the lift foyer. Oscar immediately ran behind her. Arnav watched her walk away and felt slightly restless.
“If there is any problem, I will be more than happy to have Oscar stay with me for a few days more,” Arnav suddenly offered. Khushi stopped in her tracks and slowly turned around, her eyebrows raised up in shock. Arnav Singh Raizada, the ruthless businessman was offering on his own to babysit a puppy? God, he must be feeling awfully guilty about last night’s outburst, she thought smugly.
“I appreciate your offer Mr. Raizada, but we’ll be fine. I assure you,” Khushi replied back sweetly. “Come on Oscar!” she commanded and the pup dived onto the basket as if it understood her every word. She covered it with a cloth, lest someone saw it in the reception and raised a hue and cry. Arnav punched in a number in his private elevator.
“Thank you and I’m really sorry once more,” Arnav muttered as the doors opened and Khushi walked inside. “Please feel better soon.” Khushi smiled at him. The doors closed and the lift plunged to the ground floor.
The cloth covering the basket parted slightly and Oscar looked up longingly at Khushi, no wonder wanting to be back in her arms. Khushi smiled at him. “Not yet Oscar darling. Once we are in the car. Oh and by the way, you almost licked the tomato ketchup clean off my bandage you naughty dog,” she mock reprimanded the pup, unwinding the fake bandage from around her elbow. “I should use cough syrup next time.”
Taming the mercurial Raizada into apologizing for his outbursts? Mission accomplished.
Arnav had a busy day in office. He had a number of meetings with the Singapore clients after having deferred the previous day’s appointments. Then there were the usual morning meetings. He had to return phone calls, finish up a pile of paper work, and had to plan ahead for the upcoming fashion show.
And every single minute that he wasn’t working, he was wallowing in guilt over having verbally assaulted Khushi’s answering machine the previous night. All he could think was how much pain she must have been the entire time she was in the hospital and he had been such an ass in just blasting off at her. He remembered her subdued facial expressions from earlier in the morning when she had admitted to him that she had been scared of some of his messages. Damn it!
“Sir, are you listening to me?” Aman’s voice snapped Arnav out of his reverie.
“Huh, what?” Arnav mumbled, looking slightly dazed. Aman snapped his file shut and stared at his usually composed boss looking distraught and all over the place.
“Sir, I was telling you that you are dining with the Singapore clients tonight at the Taj. I’ve left the details with your secretary and she’ll confirm you the timings. Also, since you have the meeting with the bankers later, I would recommend starting from here itself for the dinner. I hope you have a dinner jacket here,” Aman reeled off in a go then paused as his boss still looked thoughtful.
“ASR? What is wrong?” he asked unable to contain his curiosity any longer.
“Aman, have I yelled at you anytime without knowing the reasons?” Arnav suddenly asked in a low voice. Aman’s eyebrows raised up hearing this incredulous question. Every time that Arnav had yelled at him, there had been no follow up about the “why?” but how does one tell that to their boss?
“Uhm, boss… you know it’s… it doesn’t…” Aman mumbled uncertainly, looking uncomfortable. Arnav read his manager’s body language and, having correctly interpreted it, sighed. Arnav patted him on the shoulder in an understanding way.
“I’m sorry Aman. I’ll try to be more thoughtful before blasting you off the next time.” Arnav proceeded off to his closet next to his attached restroom to inspect his suits which he kept in the event of an emergency of leaving for an event straight from his office.
Aman stood stock still, his mouth having dropped an inch or two. Arnav’s sudden apology had rendered him speechless. What had happened to his boss? The difficult, toughened, ruthless guy whom he had never known to apologize for his actions was saying sorry? Did the sun rise from the West today?
“Yes, I do have my dinner jacket. Oh and this white shirt as well that I have never worn before,” Arnav said conversationally, ripping off the plastic off a brand new shirt. “So, it shouldn’t be a problem. We can leave for the dinner directly from here, Aman.”
Still dazed, Aman merely nodded and excused himself.
As soon as he heard the door click behind him, Arnav shut the door of his closet and walked back to his table, looking thoughtful again. He picked up the phone and called up his secretary on the intercom. “Shirley? Please take down an address. I need you to have something delivered.”
“Maa! I’ve told you that I’m busy tonight!” Khushi exclaimed into the phone. She was pacing in her room, fidgeting nervously and biting her nails. Anu was watching her movement all around the living room with an amused look, occasionally giggling hearing her aunt’s grumbling.
“I’m busy because.. well,” Khushi looked around as if seeking an excuse, “because I have a meeting with a client!!” she wildly invented. “Yes, I know… it is indeed an unfortunate coincidence!” Khushi replied, her face breaking into a victorious smile and sank down on the sofa. As she listened to her mother’s remonstrations from the other end, her smile slowly started fading away. She turned in time to see Anu grinning at her. The very next minute, Khushi smacked her niece’s face with a cushion, making her burst into laughter.
“Yes Maa, I’m still here,” Khushi replied slightly morosely. “Well, I don’t care if you have already promised Pammi aunty. You should have asked me first!” she added angrily. “No, I’m not getting too big for my shoes, my growth spurt stopped 10 years ago…. No, I’m not sassing you Maa….”
Anu was again looking at her aunt with amused eyes. She was lucky that she got free from college early today or she would have probably missed this very interesting phone call from her Nani to her aunt Khushi.
“Fine mother! I’ll go meet this good-for-nothing loser. But if he ends up going home with a broken nose, I won’t be held responsible in front of Pammi aunty!” Khushi disconnected the call and immediately started tapping the phone to her forehead, as if punishing herself for the ordeal she had agreed to.
“Breathe Khushi Di. Breeeeeeathe,” Anu patted Khushi’s arm sympathetically.
“I hate Maa,” Khushi muttered in a defeated voice making Anu chuckle.
“Oh come on Khushi Di. She is… difficult at times. But surely you don’t hate her,” she gently corrected. Khushi snorted at Anu’s choice of words.
“Difficult? She is utterly IMPOSSIBLE Anu,” Khushi retorted. “Why doesn’t she get it that I’m happy being single and I really do not want to get married right now.”
“Well,” Anu started picking up the cushion that Khushi had used to playfully hit her and keeping it behind her aunt’s head, “you can’t tell a mother that and expect her to be fine with it Khushi Di. Mum got married just at the age of 18 and that despite the fact that you were the older sister-”
“Payal is just one year two months and 5 days younger than me!” Khushi exclaimed vehemently.
“Yeah, well the point is that Nani just wants to see both her daughters well settled with nice guys. She worries about you,” she pointed out. Khushi stared at her niece for a moment and then settled more comfortably on the couch.
“Ms. Smarty pants, huh? How do you get to be so wise beyond your age?” Khushi asked pouting at Anu. Suddenly the door bell rang shrilly.
“That’s because I’m adopted Khushi Di,” Anu replied teasingly sticking her tongue out. Khushi immediately reached for the cushion again and chucked it in her direction but Anu got up just in time to avoid it and laughing madly walked to open the door. Khushi smiled affectionately and shook her head. The door opened and Anu’s laughter suddenly stopped making Khushi turn around curiously to see who it was at the door. The smile on her lips died down immediately.
Framed against the front door stood a man balancing a huge bouquet of white lilies in one hand and a clipboard in the other. Anu mindlessly scribbled a signature on it and walked back inside carefully holding the elaborate set up of flowers, her face looking utterly awestruck.
“What the hell?” Khushi whispered as Anu set them on the dining table. “Who sent these?”
Anu fished for a card and gasped when she found it. “Look look, it reads – ‘Dear Khushi, Hope we meet soon. Please take care of yourself – AR’ oh wow!” she sighed dreamily looking at the flowers. “Who is AR?”
“I don’t believe it!” Khushi exclaimed snatching the card away from Anu’s hands. “What a slimy guy! He thinks he can send me flowers to suck up to me? Well he thinks wrong!”
“Who are you talking about?” Anu asked in confusion.
“Pammi aunty’s darling son! AR – Akshay Rastogi,” Khushi elaborated looking at the flowers with a look of utmost disgust now.
“Okay, what is it about Pammi aunty’s son that is making you so angry? Do you know him?” Anu enquired frowning at her aunt.
“YES!” Khushi exclaimed. “That rat bastard! He was the one who threw fruit punch on my face during our fresher’s party in college! But obviously he has forgotten it already, sending me flowers to impress me no doubt. Well, I haven’t mister! Oh you are going to have a ball of a time Mr. Rastogi!” she hissed and then stalked off towards her bedroom in a huff muttering curses the entire time.
Anu suddenly understood the reference to Khushi’s threat of breaking Pammi aunty’s son’s nose and again burst into a guffaw of laughter. No wonder her Nani was having trouble hooking her up with a guy. I mean, a normal woman would be thrilled to receive flowers. But Khushi was all set to tear apart the poor guy. It seemed that World War three was going to break out that night!
Well, it was. But with a different AR altogether.
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