Arnav smoothed down the front of his new crisp white shirt as he checked his reflection in the mirror. He was still in his cabin and it was already 7:30. He knew Aman would be in any minute to whisk him away for his business dinner, but he was pacing himself leisurely. Actually, his sluggish movements were because his mind was elsewhere.
The flowers had been delivered almost 3 hours ago to Khushi’s apartment. His secretary had confirmed it directly from the man who delivered the bouquet and yet, he hadn’t yet heard anything from Khushi. He had expected her to be resting and possibly recuperating, but he had been disappointed that she didn’t call him with a simple thanks. And he wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but that disappointment was growing inside him with every minute that passed.
“ASR?” Aman’s voice floated in as his smiling face appeared at the door. “Are we ready to leave?” he asked.
“Yeah, almost,” Arnav replied picking up his dinner jacket from the chair behind him. “Aman, do women like lilies?” he asked.
The smile slowly disappeared from Aman’s face and a look of surprise replaced it. “Sir?” he repeated, wondering if he had misheard his boss.
“Lilies. Do you think women like lilies?” Arnav asked again putting on the coat. Aman stared blankly, his hand still on the handle of the door as if he had quite forgotten it was there. He wasn’t really sure if his boss was actually pulling his leg, for he had never asked him such a question before. Ever.
Arnav turned to look at Aman and raised his eyebrow enquiringly at the latter, looking expectant for an answer.
“Oh… lilies,” Aman suddenly spoke up. “Uh… I… uhm… I don’t… I’m not sure Sir, I mean, I normally go with roses,” he admitted, with the slightest blush tingeing his cheeks. Arnav frowned in response.
“Roses. Hmmm,” is all he said buttoning his dinner jacket. Maybe that is why she hasn’t called me yet. Maybe she hated the lilies, he thought disgruntled. “Okay, let’s go,” he said walking towards Aman.
“Uhm, ASR? Maybe you should wear the trousers that go with your black suit?” Aman suggested pointing at Arnav’s pants.
They were the dark brown pants that he had been wearing since morning. Arnav looked from the pants to Aman who hastily added, “Uh, I’ll just wait in the reception lobby,” and left.
Arnav looked at his pants once more and cursed.
Ahhh! Damn it Khushi!
“Ahhh dammit!” Khushi muttered frustratingly as she her hair again loosened from her grip. She was trying a different hairstyle and the stubborn strands were just not cooperating. “ANU!! A little help here?” Khushi yelled.
“Yeah, yeah… I’m here Khushi Di… you don’t have to – HOLY COW!” Anu exclaimed and slapped her palm across her mouth as she gaped at her aunt.
Khushi was wearing a cocktail dress with a charcoal grey corset and electric blue feathery underskirt which reached just short of her knees. The dress hugged her body, accentuating her every curve and her legs looked beautifully toned. Her beautiful eyes were outlined with dark kohl and she had applied a smoky air shadow on her eyelids. Her lips were painted in a dark red colour and her curly hair was bouncing off lazily off her shoulders. In one word, she looked smouldering!
“Whoa Khushi Di! You look absolutely stunning!” Anu gasped in a awestruck voice. Khushi smiled at her.
“Thanks darling! I had to work hard to dish out this from my closet. This is my most outrageous evening dress,” Khushi replied smoothing down the ruffled blue skirt and picked out a stone studded black satin jacket to wear on top of her strapless dress.
“Well, it sure looks like it,” Anu said looking at Khushi appreciatively. “For a guy whom you hate, you are dressing up pretty hot. I hope he doesn’t get the wrong idea,” she said handing a pair of sparkling stone ear rings to Khushi. The latter sniggered.
“Oh baby, you have a lot to learn. I want him to get the wrong idea,” Khushi conceded putting on the ear tops. “You see, there was a time when I was crazy for Akshay in college. I was a plain Jane back then, not much to look at. But, he was the hottest guy in the campus. Anyway, on our fresher’s party, someone let it slip to him that the nerdy Khushi Gupta liked him and that interested him like hell. So he thought it would immensely funny to drench the nerdy girl with fruit punch in front of her entire class.” Anu gasped in horror at hearing the story although, Khushi shrugged nonchalantly in response.
“So I figured, I could repay him in kind tonight, by being the hottest person in the room whom he would never have a chance in hell with. Make him taste a bit of his own medicine,” Khushi touched a coat of lipstick on her lips and then smacked them together.
“I thought you didn’t believe in revenge and getting even with others,” Anu chuckled.
“Oh I don’t kiddo,” Khushi immediately agreed. “And I’ll be on my best behaviour tonight; I’ll be nice and polite to him. I’ll only tell him that I won’t marry him. Ever. Let the rat rot with his guilty conscience for the rest of his life!”
“Oooooh. Burn!” Anu laughed. “All the best Khushi Di! You’ll blow his mind off. I’m sure!”
Khushi chuckled in response and looked into the mirror at her reflection one last time.
Akshay Rastogi, you’re so going down!
Taj Palace Delhi was one of the most picturesque hotels in the heart of the City with staggeringly beautiful ambience. It had a mix of wonderful dining options too, ranging from Vietnamese to French cuisines. The Blue Bar and the Blue Ginger were two such famous joints which were known to provide excellent service to its guests. The food and cocktail choices were myriad to pick from and the preparations were crafted into perfection by the chefs.
Arnav’s secretary had booked a table for his Singapore clients at the Blue Ginger, hoping they’d prefer the familiarity of the Vietnamese cuisine rather than experimenting with something new like English food. She figured since their spoken English wasn’t that good, their palate wouldn’t go too well with English food either.
By the time Arnav and Aman reached the restaurant, his guests had already arrived and were seated in the Blue Bar which was connected to the Blue Ginger through an alley. The bar was dimly lit with wonderful lounge music playing in the background. The barkeeper was showing stunts with the various bottles of liquor as he was making cocktails for his guests. Arnav located his guests sitting in a corner table, talking amongst themselves and enjoying their drinks and walked over to them to join them.
“Ahh gentlemen!” he started with a smile on his face, “I see that you already got started. Good.” Everyone shook hands and the clients welcomed Arnav warmly amidst them now that they weren’t bogged down by the formalities of their office. Arnav raised his hand to attract the attention of a waiter and ordered a drink for Aman and himself and then joined in talking to his clients.
At the bar, the waiter passed a sheet of paper to the barkeeper. “One scotch and one large white rum for table 12… Sir, would you like to order something?” he added politely turning to the guy sitting on the bar stool dressed in a leather jacket, drumming his fingers disinterestedly on the table.
The guy shot a look of derision towards the waiter. “Can’t you see I’m waiting for someone? Idiot,” he muttered annoyed. The poor waiter looked taken aback for being addressed to this way, bowed his head and left.
“And I do apologize to have kept you waiting,” a sweet voice came from behind which made the guy whip around. His annoyed demeanour lasted for a fraction of a second before the awestruck expression took over everything else. He saw Khushi’s dress, the grey corset, the blue feather skirt, the satin jacket covering her shoulders and gaped as if he had forgotten to speak. Well, rightly so. She was indeed looking breathtakingly gorgeous.
Khushi looked at the stranger in front of her. The guy who had tormented her throughout the college years; she seemed satisfied to see that he didn’t have quite the same boy-next door appeal in his appearance. Dressed in faded jeans and leather jacket and the weird hairstyle, he looked abysmally like the college going hooligan who refused to grow up.
“Hi Akshay. Remember me?” she asked jokingly and sat down on the bar stool next to him, her back to the rest of the room.
“Khushi!” Akshay managed to gasp as his mind coordinated his lips to move in time. “Oh my God. It’s been.. you look… wow!” Khushi smiled charmingly, flashing her pearly whites at his direction.
“Oh yeah, it’s been quite long,” she agreed. “I was really surprised when my mother called me up earlier today because apparently Pammi aunty remembered I was working here.”
“Oh… yeah… Mom… mom told me she wanted me to meet someone. I had no idea it was you,” Akshay replied, still looking slightly dazed.
“Isn’t that sweet of her,” Khushi replied and raised a finger towards the barkeeper’s direction. The waiter was next to her in a jiffy. Clearly, Akshay wasn’t the only man who was taken by Khushi’s presence. “I’ll have a Cosmopolitan please,” Khushi murmured to the waiter who noted it down in his little book. This time though, he didn’t stop to take Akshay’s order and walked away.
But Akshay didn’t even realise what had happened because his eyes kept glancing down at Khushi’s dress.
“So, Khushi. What are you upto? I can’t remember the last time we talked,” Akshay started off, trying to make small talk. Khushi smiled at him again.
“Oh you I don’t remember either,” she lied sweetly. “But then that’s not important is it? What’s important is that we are meeting finally. I’m a psychological therapist now and work as a freelance counsellor,” she added. Akshay suddenly snorted.
“So you’re like a shrink?” he asked, guffawing into laughter. Khushi hated the word “shrink” and felt a frission of irritation course through her.
“Hahaha,” she let out a fake laugh. “Yeah, yeah something like that. What about you?” she asked.
“Oh, I’m taking care of my dad’s business. We are dealing with the hatcheries around Delhi. You know, eggs and chicken both,” he said with a tone of importance. Khushi gaped at him, wondering what to make of his announcement.
“You deal with… chicks? Wow, that must be quite… challenging,” she replied.
“Oh it is,” Akshay agreed. “But then, I’m blessed to deal with all kinds of chicks, if you know what I mean,” he added winking at Khushi. She stared at him as she couldn’t believe that he was actually making such stupid jokes even 8 years after passing out of college!
On the other side of the bar, a waiter walked to Arnav’s table and whispered something in his ear. Arnav nodded once and then turned to his guests. “Gentlemen, our table seems to be ready. Shall we?” And slowly they started making their way towards the Blue ginger restaurant at the other side, walking past the bar. Arnav stopped for a moment, suddenly remembering something to tell the barkeep and turned to face him.
“Excuse me?” he said summoning the barkeeper. “I’ve a table at the Blue Ginger tonight and me and my guests are proceeding for dinner right now. Can you please have a bottle of Champagne set to chill and send it over once our dinner is over? We’re celebrating tonight.” Arnav said.
He looked sideways to see a couple sitting a few feet away from him and stared at the toned bare legs appreciatively. Her hair was bouncing off the creamy bare skin of her shoulders and even standing from far, he could smell her wonderful scent. Mentally cursing himself for feeling turned on by another guy’s woman, he reluctantly tore his glance away from her. “Oh and please bill it under my name. Arnav Singh Raizada,” Arnav confirmed and walked away.
A few minutes later, Khushi and Akshay also moved to the Blue Ginger for dinner. Akshay pulled a chair but before Khushi could sit down on it, he himself sank down on to it. Khushi pursed her lips at the blatant disregard for courtesy and pulled a chair for herself.
“So Khushi. Had any boyfriend recently?” was Akshay’s first question as soon as they placed their orders for food and wine.
“Uhm, no not really. I’ve been busy with work,” Khushi replied politely. Somehow that sounded like a joke to Akshay.
“Oh I know what that means,” he suddenly remarked in between bursts of his loud laughter. “That’s just code for guys you find interesting just don’t feel that way for you!” Another burst of laughter. Khushi was starting to feel inexplicably irritated.
“And I thought I was supposed to be the psychologist,” she replied with a polite smile. He immediately started laughing again. Jeez! Enough already!
“You are funny, Khushi! That’s good,” he replied. “You were always funny. Even back in college everyone thought you were really funny. I bet you have forgotten our fresher’s party in college. When I spilt fruit punch down your dress. That was SO FUNNY!” Khushi stared at him in wonder. She hadn’t even thought the discussion would go there. How funny would it be if I just punch you on your nose right now, she wondered.
“Oh, I don’t really remember now. It was a long time ago,” Khushi lied, taking a sip of her red wine to calm her senses. But Akshay took her words as an invitation down memory lane.
“Really? Come on Khushi. Race your mind. It wasn’t that long ago,” he prodded her. “How can you not remember having a huge crush on me? I mean, the whole college knew that for crying out loud!” Khushi felt a wave of anger rise in her at the mention of that. Don’t go there Akshay, don’t go there, she mentally warned him.
“Oh that!” she suddenly exclaimed. “You know once I started reading psychology, I discovered that my infatuation with you was nothing more than a reflection of my own desires of making myself equate with you in terms of appearances,” she replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. Akshay looked slightly lost at hearing the psychology parlance.
“Right, right of course! That is what it was,” he replied airily as if he understood everything. Suddenly he grabbed Khushi’s hand much to her surprise. “Now that we are both equally beautiful to look at, that would translate to you falling in love with me!” he said eagerly. Khushi laughed a fake laugh, trying to pry away her hand but his grasp was too strong.
“Hey this reading brain signals thing is pretty easy huh? I figure I too can be a shrink like you! What say?”
That’s it. That finally hit the nerve in Khushi.
“Okay, first of all, I’m not a SHRINK!!!” Khushi suddenly hissed pulling her hand out of his grasp with a forceful tug. “I’m a COUNSELLOR! A counsellor not a shrink! Is that too much for your little brain to distinguish between the two?” Akshay looked taken aback at this sudden change in Khushi’s behaviour.
“As far as me falling in love with you goes, you can kiss that dream goodbye as well. In fact, you know what? You can tell your dear mother to stop looking for a girl for you,” Khushi seethed. “Because the only CHICKS you deserve are THE ONES IN YOUR FARM!” Khushi’s rising voice made everyone stop and stare towards their direction including a dapper young man who was seated a few tables away from them; Arnav cocked his eyebrow as the voice seemed to register to him as a familiar one.
“I can’t believe that you sent me flowers before meeting me. Seriously? You, who can’t pull a chair for a lady, sent me something as classy as lilies? What the hell were you thinking? Oh Khushi will see the pretty flowers and she’ll forget everything that happened between us?” Khushi continued, her voice rising to a shout now. The whole room had fallen silent by then. She didn’t realise that she was on her feet and towering over Akshay who looked blank at the reference of lilies.
Arnav on the other hand had frozen as he heard about the lilies. And just as Khushi stood up, he felt his breath sucked out of his lungs as he recognized the girl from the bar he had been drooling over earlier. Is that… oh my god! Astonished, Arnav stood up too.
“WELL, MISTER, I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN ANYTHING!” Khushi went on, now positively yelling at Akshay. “I remember every single thing from that night. Right from the way you laughed at me to throwing fruit punch down my dress in front of the whole room, in front of my friends. AND NO THAT WAS NOT FUNNY! You know what it was? It was HUMILIATING!” And Khushi involuntarily picked up her glass of Pinot Noir and splashed it on Akshay’s face. The room took a collective gasp of shock. Arnav stared flabbergasted at this side of Khushi; the anger therapist had become a raging volcano herself!
With that, Khushi grabbed her purse, took out a few notes and slammed then on the table, and walked away with a huff from the restaurant. It was a few minutes before the silence in the restaurant was broken and the conversation resumed. Murmuring something to his guests Arnav followed after her.
Khushi almost ran through the Blue Bar towards the elevators. Her heart was thudding loudly and she could her face heat up. Her chest was heaving as she seethed. She had decided she wouldn’t react. She had willed herself that she wouldn’t lose her cool. And then she managed to do the exact opposite. Damn it Khushi! She cursed herself. She remembered Akshay’s stricken face as she was yelling at him. She hadn’t even given him a chance to reply. I literally gave him a dose of his own medicine. But by doing that, she suddenly wondered, how was she any different from him now? A feeling of guilt coursed through her and just like that, a couple of tears plopped down her cheeks.
The elevator doors opened and a stream of people walked out rendering it vacant in a few seconds. Thankful for some solitude, Khushi walked in and punched the button for the lower basement parking floor. Just as the doors were closing, suddenly a foot appeared out of nowhere and lodged between them. The doors reluctantly reopened allowing access to the stranger.
Khushi’s sniff abruptly got caught midway as she looked up with her teary eyes and saw Arnav Raizada looking back at her with worried eyes. What the hell is he doing here? She wondered. The doors closed behind him, trapping the two in the elevator.
“Miss Gupta,” Arnav started breathlessly. “Are you… are you okay?” he wondered aloud.
Khushi seemed bewildered to see him standing in front of her that she didn’t quite realise that her mascara was steadily flowing down her cheeks mingled with the tears. Of all the places and of all the possible timings, now was the moment destiny chose to make him run into her? She sniffed loudly, restraining her nose from flowing and wordlessly nodded her head in response.
“Uhm… that was… quite a performance. You’ve put me to shame,” Arnav said, trying to diffuse the situation with some humour. Thankfully, Khushi responded with a weak chuckle despite her tears, making her look adorable.
“I’m sorry that you had to witness that, Mr. Raizada,” Khushi replied, her voice wavering slightly. “I hope it doesn’t make you take my profession less seriously.”
Arnav smiled warmly at her. “I wouldn’t dream of doing that Miss Gupta,” he said offering his handkerchief to her. She looked a little taken aback at his gesture but accepted it. “Besides, it just shows that you are human too.” Khushi smiled feebly at him.
“I didn’t mean to throw the wine at his face,” she mumbled. “I was just so…”
“Mad?” Arnav supplied helpfully. Khushi felt silent for a moment and then nodded in reply.
“But that’s no excuse for my behaviour!” she immediately added. “I humiliated him in front of everyone! Just because I was swept away by my anger for a moment…” Khushi sniffed again miserably. “Maybe I should go and apologize to him…”
“No you shouldn’t,” Arnav countered making Khushi stare at him. “Sometimes, it is important to vent out, even if that is the worst thing to happen at that very moment. Had you not given him a piece of your mind tonight, you probably would have boiled inside for a long time before you met him again. It’s okay to let it out when the anger gets too much to handle.” Arnav’s discourse surprised Khushi. Now that she thought about it, had she confronted Akshay the night he first acted like a jerk with her all those years ago she probably would have had a much peaceful life.
“Hmm… now that never occurred to me,” Khushi muttered. Arnav chuckled.
“Well it never occurred to me either that I’d be counselling you one day,” he countered light heartedly, stressing on the word counselling. Khushi realised that he was referring to her outburst about preferring to be called a counsellor rather than a shrink and smiled at him.
The two of them rode down in companionable silence; the first time that Arnav hadn’t felt like throttling her and the first time that she hadn’t really driven him up the wall either. The doors of the elevator pinged open a few moments later and Khushi stepped out closely followed by Arnav.
“I’m sorry to have dragged you out like this,” Khushi apologised.
“Oh, I didn’t mind. It was getting slightly boring up there talking to the Singaporeans in broken English. Another few minutes and I swear I would have forgotten my grammar,” Arnav replied light heartedly. Khushi smiled again and handed her valet ticket at the booth. A driver touched his cap respectfully towards her and left to fetch her car.
“You look beautiful tonight,” Arnav suddenly blurted, finally speaking what had been on his mind from the moment he first laid his eyes on her. Khushi looked slightly taken aback at the directness of his comment.
“Thank you, Mr. Raizada,” she replied blushing slightly.
Arnav looked awkward too. After all they had never had such a polite moment before. “I’m glad to see you seem to be doing well,” he said for want of changing the topic. As she looked at him enquiringly, he pointed towards her arm. “Your arm. It seems to be healing quite fast.”
Khushi looked down at it and realised what he was referring to. Her heart beat suddenly started racing in alarm. She had completely forgotten about her morning stunt with the bandage and the fake injury! She immediately looked up horror struck at Arnav. “Oh, yeah… The meds are pretty… strong,” she wildly made up, looking urgently in the other direction willing her valet to hurry up.
Arnav eyebrows furrowed in confusion; something wasn’t right. “They must be,” he replied, “as you couldn’t really move your arm in the morning.” Just as she heard his words, she cradled her arm carefully as if his words had made her realize her pain.
“Oh the pains keep coming and going, you know. But not to worry. Really! The doctors said it would be fine in a day or two,” Khushi replied, her voice overtly reassuring. Come on! Where’s my car, damn it?
“Oh that’s good to hear,” Arnav replied breezily and then seeing that she seemed more interested in her car, he thought he had over stepped the line. “Okay, I’ll get going then. Shouldn’t keep the clients waiting.” Khushi smiled politely at him in response.
“Yes sure. Thank you once again for… coming down here with me,” she added. Arnav smiled back at her as well.
“Oh that’s no trouble. Good night Miss Gupta. Hope we meet soon. Take care of yourself,” Arnav said and with a final wave of his hand, he walked back towards the lift lobby.
Her car arrived just then and Khushi got in thanking the valet and left a tip for him. Just as she put the car in gear and started pulling out of the driveway, Arnav’s words echoed in her mind.
Hope we meet soon. Take care of yourself.
Hope we meet soon… Take care of yourself.
Those were the words in the card that came with the bouquet as well! And it finally clicked in her mind.
Those beautiful flowers, those enormous lovely lilies were from… him? Khushi slammed the breaks and the car halted with a jolt. She turned to look towards the lift lobby just to catch a glance at Arnav’s handsome face as the doors of the elevator closed.
AR wasn’t Akshay Rastogi… it was… Arnav Raizada!!
Khushi leaned back on her seat feeling suddenly light headed.
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