Sitting beside a quiet Arnav in the SUV, Khushi stole a glance at him. She was dangerously attracted to this man. She shook her head, the push and pull of wishes and fears tearing her apart. She felt awash with guilt at the lie they were living. Her feelings for him were increasing every day, and naïve that she was, she still could feel herself falling in love with him. Falling in love with a man who professed to have no heart … who did not know what love meant. Yet he had said the words to her so easily a little while ago.
And now, this insistence to drive her to Aman’s hotel. Did he not even trust her this much; first his assumption that she was willing to marry his brother-in-law, then his anger over Harry this afternoon, and now changing his plan to escort her? Yet a voice inside her chided her to not think too much and just enjoy being with him. A voice telling her slyly, ‘you know you want to be with him … every minute that you can.’
And that was true. Still, she knew she ought to be resisting all of this.
Lost in her thoughts, Khushi was startled when the car suddenly stopped and there was a valet opening her door, waiting patiently for her to get out. Before she could react, Arnav was beside the door, holding his hand out for her. Too surprised to put up much of a fight, she quietly put her small hand into his, and let him help her step down gently.
The tinkling of a water fountain in the lobby greeted Khushi, calming her ruffled nerves immediately. Forgetting that she still held his hand, she looked about her fascinated by the cool marble interiors of the hotel lobby. Squeezing his hand excitedly, she all but dragged him towards the wall of bay windows at one side over looking the hotel pool.
Arnav looked at her indulgently, viewing the lobby that he would only cursorily glance at whenever he came here through her eyes, enjoying her pleasure more than anything else. He looked towards the coffee shop where he had told Aman they would meet him.
Khushi was still, unconsciously clutching his hand, and much as he hated the thought of stifling her discoveries, he needed to call Aman to let him know that they had arrived.
‘Khushi’, he tugged at her hand gently pulling her away, from the pool and towards the house phones. Realizing that she was hanging on to him for quite some time now, Khushi pulled out her hand from his with a jerk, stepping back from him a little.
Staring at her for minute intently, Arnav turned his heels and walked towards the house phones, where he had a quick chat with Aman and walked back towards where she was still waiting.
‘He’ll join us in the coffee shop,’ he told her holding her by the elbow and leading her towards the glass doors at the entrance of the lobby they had just entered.
Once inside the coffee shop, Khushi looked at him while he spoke to the manager, requesting a table, and stating his preference for one with a poolside view. His handsome face was tanned and lean and his nose classical in profile. She liked the humorous gleam in his brown eyes, liked the way his strong fingers still held her elbow gently, liked the way his collar opened to his muscular chest. A rush of pride filled her. She was proud to be married to this man.
She did not realize that he had stopped talking and was now watching her. Their gazes met and the sudden electricity flared between them. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart began to beat wildly. Had he asked her something, she mused?
Catching her fluster, he smiled and dropped a quick kiss on her lips. Her lips tingled, but a small circle of dread began to grow in her chest. She took a deep breath and cleared her mind. This was just getting too confusing.
Aman’s loud voice distracted her as she turned back towards the main door a warm smile on her lips. Forgetting where she was and whom she was with, Khushi rushed towards her best friend instinctively – straight into his extended arms. He swung her up and around and even though Arnav was aware of their closeness, he could not help the slight tinge of envy that rushed through him as he looked at them, a small frown marring his forehead.
‘Arnav!!!’ Aman had put Khushi down and was now walking towards him, his arms extended, a warm smile on his handsome face. Not being a very emotional or demonstrative person, Arnav reeled under the onslaught of the warm embrace that Aman engulfed him in. From over Aman’s shoulder he watched, surprised, Khushi eyeing them with a similar distracted frown.
‘What’s up dude?’ Aman had moved back a step, still holding Arnav’s shoulders firmly. ‘All okay between the love birds, finally?’ he whispered, giving a startled Arnav a conspiratory wink.
‘Accha chalo,’ Aman swiftly changed the topic turning back and including Khushi, who had walked up to join them. ‘Jaldi se baitho … I want to share something.’
Seated that the table with Aman on one side and Arnav, disturbingly close on the other, Khushi turned excitedly towards Aman. ‘Haan toh …’ she began, ‘kya keh rahe they...’
‘Diya and I are getting married’ Aman all but shouted reaching out and clutching Khushi’s hand that was on the table beside him. ‘And I want YOU … no … both of you to be there next month in Mumbai.’ Turning to Arnav he added, ‘I’ll mail you the details, dude.’
Khushi stared at Aman open-mouthed for five full seconds before launching herself at him, almost knocking over the table and Aman himself. Engulfing her in a bear hug, Aman barely managed to keep them both from falling over while he laughed ‘…er that is if I don't fall over and break my neck right now!’
Khushi swatted his arm while settling back into her chair, clasping his hands with both of hers and gushed in excitement ‘So you did it finally… told her you loved her…’
Arnav turned towards her incredulously. ‘What the...’ he thought to himself. He had just told her he loved her this afternoon. And there had been no reaction at all from her for that, he muttered to himself irritated with her constantly rushing to hug Aman.
‘Congratulations’, he muttered instead to Aman, as Khushi settled back in her chair, bombarding him with fifty-three questions about the how, what and where of his proposal.
‘Thanks dude,’ Aman muttered instead, looking at Arnav sheepishly. ‘Ek minute,’ he turned back towards Khushi, ‘shall we order first, and then I will answer all your questions.’
Settled with their teas and coffees, Aman detailed the wedding plans adding that amma and the rest of the family needed to be there too. He would send out the cards later, but Khushi had to let everyone know the dates etc. once Arnav received the email.
‘And you both need to come a little earlier, of course,’ he added with a twinkle in his eye, ‘you…’ pointing at Arnav, ‘for my bachelor party and you…’ pointing at Khushi, ‘for my moral support.’
Bachelor party! Khushi’s eyebrows went up. Adding two and two, she wondered if a girl’s bachelor party had male strippers, would a boy’s have women doing the same instead. Her brow furrowed at the thought of her husband watching some beautiful scantily clad women dancing in front of him. She felt angry suddenly at the thought.
So lost in her thoughts was she that she missed Aman and Arnav making a plan to move up to Aman’s room instead of the coffee shop. ‘Dude, it's late already, but knowing you, do you have to get back to work? I can drop her off later, if you want,’ Aman was asking Arnav. ‘No, I don't think there's anything pressing in office today, we can…’ Arnav started, only to be interrupted by Khushi.
‘Aman... kal karenge? Bahut der ho gayi .. ghar pe sab intezaar kar rahe honge..’
Arnav frowned turning towards her quizzically. Sensing the tension between them, Aman shrugged and said "Of course ... call me tomorrow... I'm here for another day. We still need to celebrate my news’. Looking at Arnav, he winked.
Rushing through a quick goodbye, Khushi started walking towards the entrance, leaving a puzzled Arnav and Aman staring at her back and then at each other.
‘She seems to be upset,’ Aman mused ‘You may need to feed her,’ he advised Arnav mock seriously.
Patting Aman gratefully on his shoulders and promising to catch up soon, Arnav rushed after Khushi, taking long strides to catch up with her.