“Tell me again Khushi di,” Anu said watching her aunt pacing the room muttering to herself. “How do you go to a boring place like an antique market and still end up having a date?” she asked, her eyes shining in amusement. Khushi stopped in her tracks and immediately veered on her spot looking deranged.
“Okay, let’s get one thing straight. This is NOT a date!!” she exclaimed in frustration. “I’m only going for a… friendly meal to my client’s house, in the hopes of discovering something more about his profile.” Khushi nodded as if mentally pacifying herself.
It was Sunday already and Khushi was due to leave for Arnav’s penthouse shortly. Of course, she had narrated the entire incident about the dinner at Taj to Anu, the startling revelation about AR, and the fiasco that had followed at the antique market the previous day. Anu only had moments to digest the fact that it was Arnav Raizada, who had sent the flowers. But before she could remark on the strangeness of the incident, she had been bombarded with the details of the lunch invitation extended by the other Raizada who most probably was dreaming that Khushi was going to be part of her clan pretty soon.
“Sure di, keep telling that to yourself. Maybe you’ll start believing it after some time,” Anu replied cheekily, getting off the sofa and walking towards the fridge to get herself a drink. She couldn’t reach it for Khushi swung her around by her shoulders.
“Anu! This is not a date!” she muttered urgently. “It’s that psychotic guy Arnav Raizada and his blabbing mouth which couldn’t speak the truth in front of his sister.”
“Yeah I understood that. He couldn’t tell his sister that he’s a lunatic who’s undergoing therapy. But, his girlfriend?! Come on Khushi Di! Anything is better than calling you his girlfriend.” Anu said shrugging and taking out a can of Coke from the fridge. Khushi, however, looked affronted at hearing Anu’s words.
“What do you mean, ‘calling you his girlfriend’?” Khushi asked, stressing on the word. “You don’t think I’m good enough to be Arnav Raizada’s girlfriend?” she asked looking slighted. Anu spewed out a mouthful of Coke she was sipping.
“Oh God! Do you want to be his girlfriend Khushi Di?” she finally managed to say.
“What? Oh… no! God, no! Of course not. Why would you get that idea Anu? That’s… stupid… really…” Khushi’s retort dissolved into an incoherent mumble. Anu stared at her aunt suspiciously, wondering if she was losing it too and needed therapy herself.
“Look, you know it, I know it, that devilish Arnav Raizada too knows it that you are not his girlfriend. Just make sure his sister also ends up thinking the same by the end of the day,” Anu advised serenely.
“But how do I do that?” Khushi asked, looking slightly lost. Anu smiled mischievously in response making Khushi raise her eyebrow inquisitively.
What exactly did the little devil have on her mind?
“Okay. So I’ve got the pork on the grill and the chicken is almost ready. Fish fingers are shallow fried so once Khushi comes, I’ll just reheat them. I’ve made both fried rice and French bread, you know just so that we have everything covered. I really don’t understand how come you don’t know her preferences for food Chotay,” Anjali muttered bustling about in the huge metallic kitchen in his Penthouse.
Arnav rolled his eyes; he had been up since morning at the insistence of his sister to help her in the kitchen. His first suggestion of having the food delivered, invited a deadly glare from Anjali. His second suggestion of having Anita, his housekeeper and cook, take care of the preparations was completely ignored. He didn’t think he’d make any headway with his third suggestion of eating at a nice restaurant, so he just shut up and helped his sister around the kitchen.
“I’m sure she’ll love all of it Di. There was no need for you to do everything on your own, you know?” Arnav replied, refilling her glass with red wine.
“Oh shush! I wanted to.” Anjali waved him away dismissively. “You know, you havenever introduced me to any girl Chotay? The only ones I’ve had the misfortune of meeting were the half dressed women sneaking out of your bedroom in the wee hours of the morning.” Arnav sniggered.
“Trust me sis, they were more scared to see you than you were to see them,” he replied chuckling.
“Yeah, I guess me crouching in an attacking position with a serving spoon in my hand would have been scary,” Anjali admitted. “In my defence, I thought there were burglars in the house.” Arnav burst into laughter, making his sister smile too.
“It’s good to see you smile and laugh like this Chotay. I haven’t seen you this way in a long time,” Anjali said happily, caressing Arnav’s face. “And I think I’m right in assuming that it is because of this new girl in your life whom you’ve managed to stick with for so long.” Arnav’s smile dimmed a little at the mention of Khushi.
He didn’t know if it was she who made him smile, but yeah, she had done plenty in the past that made him want to strangle her!
“More wine Di?” he hastily changed the subject. Just as Anjali was about to reply, the door bell rang shrilly through the apartment. “Think of the devil,” Arnav muttered under his breath and walked towards the lift lobby to welcome his guest.
He opened the door with a flourish. “Welcome Ms. Gupta,” he muttered, sticking to his usual way of greeting her. Khushi stared at Anjali waving gaily at her from behind Arnav and discreetly coughed at him, “Khushi! Welcome, Khushi!”
Arnav mentally smacked himself. Of course, it couldn’t be Ms. Gupta for today. He’d have to keep himself in check. “Hi Khushi! You look beautiful!” he corrected himself and quickly proceeded to hug her.
Khushi was struck speechless at this unexpected gesture. She realised she would have to keep up appearances for the day so she awkwardly wound her arm around Arnav and returned the hug, all the while thinking annoyingly to herself, you are so going to pay for this mister.
“Khushi dear!” Anjali walked up to her as soon as they broke off their hug. “So good to see you again! Chotay and I were just talking about you.” Khushi turned to look at Arnav with gleeful eyes at hearing Anjali’s nick name for him. Arnav, however, was not amused.
“Di, can you not call me that please? We have company for God’s sake!” he muttered embarrassedly.
“Oh pffft!” Anjali replied waving her hand dismissively at him. “She is your girlfriend. What’s there to hide from her? I was planning on showing your childhood pictures later too. Don’t tell me you’ll throw a fit at that too!” she exclaimed leading Khushi towards the open sitting lounge outdoors by the swimming pool.
Khushi suddenly had a huge smile on her face. Suddenly, her discomfort at camouflaging to be Arnav’s girlfriend had taken an upside turn. “Childhood pictures!! Oooh I can’t wait Anjali Di!” she mumbled rubbing her hands in glee, throwing a sideways glance at Arnav, who scowled back at both the women. How do I always manage to end up in such a situation? He wondered.
Once Anjali and Khushi both got a glass of chilled white wine, Anjali threw the first question she was dying to ask. “So Khushi, how did the two of you meet?”
Khushi and Arnav both froze instantly. They had so much time since their meeting the previous night and yet they hadn’t made any efforts to work out a story?! What the- !
“Uh… we met at a wedding!” Khushi blurted out. Anjali looked extremely surprised at this. She turned to look at Arnav and then back at Khushi.
“A wedding? Who’s wedding Chotay?” she asked in confusion. Arnav was looking utterly blank, his lips opening and closing like a goldfish’s. Anjali continued to look from Khushi to Arnav and back hoping someone could fill in the gaps.
“Oh it was my friend who got married to Arnav’s…” Khushi faltered, wondering who she could link her imaginary friend with, when Arnav ended her sentence.
“To my manager,” he finished triumphantly, with a big smile. Khushi too nodded in ascent. Yeah, let’s get the imaginary friend married to his manager. Easy peasy. Anjali, however, choked on her wine.
“Wasn’t Aman married already?” she asked in shock. Arnav and Khushi exchanged shell shocked looks with each other; Khushi horrified that they had just forced an already married man into a fictitious tale, Arnav astounded that his sister knew about the personal life of his employee. Suddenly, Khushi burst into laughter loudly. It was obviously fake, but Anjali started smiling seeing Khushi rocking back and forth. Arnav also joined in.
“What? What am I missing here Khushi?” Anjali asked looking at both of them.
“Hahahaha! That was hilarious! Aman is married!” Khushi said panting through her laughter. “We didn’t mean Aman! Poor thing if he only knew we were marrying him off to someone else, I bet his wife would chase us around the house.”
“Yeah, Di. That would be crazy!” Arnav added, shaking his head. “I meant this other manager. New employee. I don’t think you know her.”
“HER? You hired a new woman manager?” Anjali suddenly caught on. Arnav stopped laughing again. This lying business was becoming trickier with every passing minute. “So you knew the girl,” Anjali said pointing to Arnav. “And you knew the guy.” She added pointing at Khushi. “Hmmm, interesting.”
At this point Khushi was glaring at Arnav. He had blown the perfectly good story. Again. “Yeah, Di. Don’t you know? Arnav has lots of female friends!” she said gritting her teeth in a fake smile. It looked as if she had toothache. Arnav bunched his eyebrows together in a frown. He wasn’t sure he liked Khushi’s tone right then.
“Oh yeah. Just like my girlfriend only hangs out with guys,” he rebutted sweetly. Khushi’s glare became more pronounced. “Did you know Di,” he added turning to his sister, “Khushi is best friends with Rahul Mehra, that famous actor!” At this Anjali almost squealed.
“What really? Rahul Mehra? THE Rahul Mehra?” Anjali asked excitedly. Khushi smiled politely at Anjali and nodded. “Oh you have to introduce me sometime! That hunk is gorgeous! I could just eat-”
“DI!” Arnav’s shocked voice stopped Anjali’s sentence midway.
“What?” she asked looking innocently at Arnav. “I could just eat ice cream with him any time, is what I was going to say!” she retorted. Arnav shook his head in exasperation.
“Yeah, I bet you were,” he said, making both Khushi and Anjali giggle like school girls. “Excuse me, I need to go check on the chicken,” he added and quickly left, lest he be involved in some other lies.
Khushi watched him walk past, and whispered, “yeah more like, excuse me, I’m chickening outta here.” Arnav threw her a dirty look making her smirk, but thought it was wiser not to enter into a rebuttal and continued walking towards the kitchen.
“So Khushi, tell me something more about you. Where are you from?” Anjali asked sinking comfortably on the lounge sofa.
“Well, I’m originally from Lucknow, born and brought up there,” Khushi started, “I moved here for my college and have been living here ever since.” Arnav’s ears picked up on her voice and he straightened up, staring at her in wonder. He had no clue she was from Lucknow too-
“Ohh! You are from Lucknow too?” Anjali immediately exclaimed. “We are from Lucknow too! Well, we lived there initially but then we too left the city for higher education and all. This is so wonderful!” she added happily glancing at Arnav as if this was a God sent sign of their compatibility. “So who else is there in your family dear?” Anjali continued.
“Well, right now, it’s just me, my mother and my sister. I lost my father a couple of years ago. So now, my mother lives with my married sister and her husband in Agra. My niece is staying with me,” Khushi said taking a sip of her wine. Anjali suddenly looked sad.
“I’m sorry to hear about your father. We lost our parents too in a car accident a few years ago,” she mumbled. It was Khushi’s turn to be surprised now. She had read Arnav’s file but she had no clue how his parents had died. She turned to look at him, but he was checking something in the oven, poking at the dish inside with his finger, seemingly detached from their bubble.
“I’m sorry,” Khushi replied. “Was Arnav very young that time?” she asked.
“Oh yes, just in his teens I’m afraid. I think that scarred him pretty badly,” Anjali said glancing sadly at Arnav.
“He was angry with God for a long time because He took our parents from us. He immersed himself completely in studies and later work. He never realised how much he had detached himself from everything else in his mission; his relationships, his family, his friends… He has hence always kept himself at a distance from everyone. Which is why I am so happy that he found you!” Anjali ended her monologue and squeezed Khushi’s hand.
Khushi was surprised at the touch. She looked up at Anjali to find a happy smile on her face, slightly dopey, almost content. She took smiled back reassuringly. It was hard not to with such infectious happiness emanating from Anjali.
“I think I’ve said too much!” Anjali added shyly. “It’s this wine, I tell you. It makes me so talkative.” Khushi laughed softly at that.
“Not at all Di. Although, if you want, why don’t you go lie down for sometime. We’ll call you down once lunch is ready?” Khushi offered.
“Oh come on! I couldn’t do that! You’re my guest Khushi,” Anjali retorted indignantly. Khushi shook her head. Like brother, like sister: full of stubbornness. She kept Anjali’s wine glass down on the table and helped her stand up.
“I thought you were my Di,” Khushi said, looking at her with innocent doe eyes, knowing she’d fall for it. Sure enough-
“Awwww! Yes baby! I am. Okay okay, I won’t call you a guest,” Anjali replied pinching Khushi’s cheek. The latter grinned and started leading her inside. Anjali mumbled something about finding her own way, kissed Khushi on the cheek and ambled inside.
Khushi slowly walked back towards the lounge, letting her glance roam around the neat apartment done in minimalistic design. Greys, blacks, steel, white surrounded her. The grand Piano sat majestically in the corner. The walls all bare, with a wonky lampshade here and there. The house itself screamed coldness. There were no pictures, no colour, and no warmth.
Khushi was finally gaining some insight into the mechanical robot that was Arnav Singh Raizada. In the past three weeks, she had only been trying to force him into healing without knowing the actual source of anger within him. She realised that the anger was routed deeper than she had initially thought. Arnav was not mad with people mistreating women only, he was enraged because of his anger with God. And although she was absolutely sure that he had outgrown that reason by now, guessing he was most certainly an atheist, that anger had gripped him so tightly for such a large part of his life that he had become inherently an angry person. Heeling that would be more complicated.
She stopped as she reached the kitchen and watched Arnav chopping veggies for the salad. Neat, meticulous strokes and with a flourish moving the cut veggies into a big bowl. He had a small towel resting on his shoulder, which he wiped his hands on repeatedly. Khushi leaned against the wall, crossing her arms. It was oddly amusing to watch a domesticized side of the man; somehow she couldn’t imagine him cooking a meal, or dancing slowly, or taking a walk by the beach holding her hand…
She suddenly straightened, the amusement on her face fading. What the hell am I thinking? She shook her head violently, trying to get the last visual out of her mind.He’s your client. Only your client Khushi! Finally, she straightened, took a deep breath and slowly approached Arnav.
“So you can cook, eh?” she suddenly said, making Arnav jump out of his skin. Suddenly, the knife missed the lettuce he was shredding and cut open his thumb instead.
“Ahhh fuck!” he grimaced in pain. Khushi’s look of mischief quickly transformed into concern.
“What happened? OH MY GOD – that’s blood!” she exclaimed, her eyes widening in horror seeing the red liquid trickle down this thumb. “I’m so, so sorry Arnav! I didn’t mean to…” she mumbled fretfully, snatching away the knife away from him hand and rushing him to the wash basin. She didn’t mean to startle him so much that he hurt himself. Not to mention she got nauseous every time she saw blood.
“Khushi it’s-” Arnav started but Khushi was not listening to him anymore. She had gone into urgency overdrive.
“Here, put it under the running water. It will help,” she said in a panic. “Do you have any ice?” she added rushing to the fridge and opening up the freezer compartment searching for ice cubes. Despite the light stinging in his thumb, Arnav couldn’t help but smirk; it was always fun to see Khushi flustered.
“Khushi, listen to me. I’m-” Arnav patiently tried again, but the very next second he shut up as he felt a his fingers tingle in the coldness of the ice. Khushi had pushed his entire hand inside a bowl full of ice cubes, enough to numb his whole hand.
“There, this much should be enough,” she added holding his wrist. She seemed completely disoriented and looked crazily towards the fridge again as if possessed. The sight of as small an injury as a cut was enough to make her distracted with anxiety. “I can get some more if you want. You know in case this isn’t-”
Just as she started walking towards the freezer again, Arnav caught hold of her hand and pulled her towards him with force. She crashed onto him, her other hand instinctively stopping on his chest as she tried to break her fall. Arnav let go of her hand and snaked his arm around her waist to steady them. Khushi looking up into his eyes, startled.
“I said, I’m fine, Khushi. It’s just a cut,” he said in a low reassuring voice. “The question is, are you okay?”
“Huh?” Khushi repeated uncertainly, her heartbeats racing rather than calming down. She had never noticed that he had a tinge of caramel in his chocolaty orbs, breathtakingly beautiful obviously. And what was that insanely wonderful cologne that was slowly starting to overpower her. And his arms seemed really strong; did he work out?
Arnav felt the breath knocked out of his lungs, and that was not just because of the impact of their collision. No, it was her doe-eyes looking at him in innocent startle, her eyelashes fluttering in slow motion, the feeling of her soft skin against his touch… the pink lips, quivering…
They stood like that, their bodies pressing into each other’s, their lips barely inches apart, their gazes locked together; Khushi’s surprised ones with Arnav’s calm ones. Then, his gaze slowly moved from her eyes to her lips. Close… so tantalisingly close…
Suddenly, Khushi’s eyes widened as if realizing their proximity to each other was not a healthy development, and she roughly pushed Arnav away from her. He stared at her startled. She pulled out his hand from the bowl of ice cubes and checked it all over.
“Good, the bleeding stopped,” she said conversationally. “You better go and call Di for lunch. I’ll take care of the things here,” she added opening the oven and taking out the pork. Arnav stood in amazement for a moment, before walking away looking slightly dazed.
The rest of the lunch was relatively a muted down experience; Khushi and Arnav continued to talk animatedly to Anjali, but their eyes didn’t really meet. Something had changed between them and they both were becoming more and more aware of it with every passing minute. When Anjali offered to bring out the family album containing Arnav’s childhood pictures, Khushi’s lips twitched up in a faint smile. But thinking that Arnav wouldn’t like it, she politely denied making up an excuse that she had to leave for home.
“This was a wonderful meeting Khushi darling!” Anjali finally said as Khushi got up to leave. “It’s a shame that I came up for such a short duration.” She hugged Khushi fondly who genuinely smiled back. “But I really hope to see more of you soon. Don’t be a stranger okay?”
“It was a pleasure meeting you Anjali Di. Really. I had a wonderful time!” Khushi replied happily. “You take care now and have a safe flight back.”
With a final hug goodbye, Arnav walked Khushi towards the elevator lounge of his penthouse apartment. Both of them were silent, not really knowing what to say to each other. The awareness of each other’s presence was getting heavier with each passing minute. As they waited for the lift, Arnav turned towards Khushi to say something to her. But he changed his mind almost instantaneously and looked away. A moment later Khushi turned to do the same. But she too changed her mind.
Soon the lift was there with a soft ping.
Arnav watched Khushi walk in and finally blurted out, “It was nice of you to come by!” Khushi looked up startled. Just as the doors started closing in, she extended her arm and stopped the doors from closing.
“Oh… Well, I had a good time today,” she replied, with a small smile. “Your sister is amazing!”
“She’s crazy,” Arnav differed shaking his head. “She thinks she’s Sherlock Holmes. I thought she’d catch our lie.”
“Well, we managed to cook up an awesome story,” Khushi said, her smile widening. Arnav too grinned at this.
“Yes, we did,” he agreed. “Although, I was half in a mind to break up with you. You know with all your antics,” he added, the slightest trace of teasing in his voice. Khushi’s eyes widened again. She had never experienced this side of Arnav: the smiling, teasing, joking side.
“Well, if there’s any consolation to you, I was going to break up with you myself!” she replied slightly affronted that he was stealing her idea. “I even had a plan to sabotage today’s lunch.” Arnav chuckled. Going by his experience with her, if she had planned on breaking up with him, she’d probably have done it with exceptional thoroughness.
“But you didn’t,” he pointed out the obvious. Khushi slowly lowered her hand at hearing Arnav’s words, again looking dazed.
“I didn’t,” she repeated and the doors finally closed in. Arnav’s face finally disappeared from her view. “I didn’t…” her soft whisper uncertainly trailed off as the private elevator whizzed to the atrium, just as the thoughts in her mind were whizzing.
She didn’t “break up” with him. Just as he didn’t “break up” with her either.
Well, I promised I’d be updating my stories didn’t I So yeah, it starts here with Taming. It feels good to be back to writing after months! Hopefully I can update more regularly!
Please do comment generously. I could use with some pep talk right about now
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