Standing at the door, with the tea tray in her hands, Khushi peeped inside apprehensively. In the past, she recalled, he had always been angry after any show of emotion that he believed would be a weakness. His hiding behind a harsh mask of insults and temper, was something she was quite used to by now.
He was still standing where she had left him, his back towards her, staring out into the pool. Khushi felt a shiver run down her spine, as she crept quietly into the room, depositing the tray on the table near where he stood. She sat and poured his tea, uncomfortable with the silence in the room.
‘So, what has this … er … Harry? … been teaching you?’, Arnav asked calmly.
Khushi nearly dropped the teacup that she had been holding out towards him, as his voice suddenly broke the silence.
He turned slowly to look down at her, enjoying, but purposely ignoring her discomfiture. He moved nonchalantly closer towards where she was sitting and taking the cup from her now shaking hand, sat comfortably next to her on the small settee.
‘Khushi? …’ He asked softly turning to look into her face which was now just inches away from his.
He watched, with a satisfied smile, myriad emotions flit crossed her face, as she tried to figure out just what was going on with him.
‘Huh…’ she focused on him, ‘Aap … Harry…?’ she repeated incoherently instead.
‘Haan … I asked you what has he been teaching you?’ Arnav asked her patiently, sipping the tea, all the while watching her intently, above the rim of the cup.
‘Vo … hume …’ Khushi continued to mumble, not knowing where this conversation was going. Was he going to scream again? Why was he asking her these questions? ‘English …’ she said instead, ‘English sikha rahe hain vo…’
‘And he has a girlfriend, you told me … Shruti?’ Arnav probed.
‘Sakshi…’ Khushi looked away from his penetrating gaze, uncomfortable at his closeness and the ease with which he was conversing with her.
‘Haan ... the one who took you for the strippers party.’ He mused, remembering their night spent at the farmhouse.
‘Strippers party nahi tha vo’. Khushi burst out hotly, quelling down the same memories.
Arnav looked at her, raising an eyebrow, a smirk on his lips. ‘Achcha? So those men there…’
‘Aa-aap’ she interrupted urgently, not liking the direction this conversation was taking. ‘Hum... matlab hum pooch rahe they ki aap jaldi kaise aa gaye?’
Arnav bit back a smile at her obvious attempt to change the topic. ‘Haan woh … I just took a break. I'll be heading back now.’
‘Oh’, she said flushing prettily, hoping that he did not notice the disappointment in her voice.
The sharp ring of Khushi’s mobile broke the moment as they both turned towards the sound. Khushi rushed, eager to escape his disturbing proximity, to the bedside where she noticed, with a smile, Aman’s number flashing on the screen.
‘Aman’, she gushed into the phone, unaware of Arnav’s sudden stiffening shoulders.
Hearing the warm jocular voice of her friend at the other side, she immediately forgot the brooding presence in the room behind her, missing his sharp intake of breath, on hearing the joy in her voice.
Arnav watched her make herself comfortable on the bed, chatting merrily to her friend. It seemed that he was in Delhi for some work.
‘Bilkul!’ she chirped ‘Hum abhi aate hai! Kaunsa hotel?’
Arnav frowned, willing her to look at him. It seemed like Aman offered to come and pick her up. ‘Achcha theek hai’, she continued still unaware of his rigid presence in the room behind her. ‘Hum tayyaar rahenge.’
He clenched his fists trying to bite down on his rising annoyance while he noticed her shoulders stiffening slightly, before she spoke again, looking at him from the corner of her eye. ‘Er... vo... er... vo abhi office jaayenge. Tum raat ko hume chodne aaoge toh mil lena.’
‘Oh, is that so?’ Arnav thought angrily. ‘We'll see about that.’
He waited for her to hang up and turn towards him. He refused to make this easy for her by acknowledging what he got from the conversation and looked at her pointedly, waiting for her to speak.
‘Er hum... vo,’ she started, suddenly feeling unsure.
Arnav tried to keep his rising temper in check at seeing Khushi being so jovial with Aman one minute and stammering in front of him the next. ‘Vo Aman yaad hai naa aapko? Humaara dost? Vo Delhi mei hai kuch kaam se. Toh hum...’
He knew he should say something, but he stubbornly refused to do so. She will have to tell me that she just asked Aman to come and pick her up, he thought.
‘Kya?’ he said tonelessly.
Fiddling with her palla, she continued with increasing trepidation, ‘Vo humse milne aa raha hai toh…’
‘Oh that's great. He's coming home?’, Khushi completely missed the disbelief in Arnav’s sarcastic voice.
‘Nahin... matlab haan... matlab... ghar pe toh sab aaraam kar rahe hai, toh... matlab he said he'll come and pick me... vo... er aapse bhi milna... toh ... you're going to office, so I said he can meet you when he drops me back..." she finished in a rush of words.
‘Call him back.’
‘Ji?’, Khushi looked up at his abrupt command, stopping her fidgeting.
‘You have his number, right? Call him back. Now.’ Arnav ground out patiently.
‘Arnav ji...’ Khushi started, unsure of what he planned to tell Aman now.
‘Khushi, I want to say hi too... aur uska number nahi hai mere paas’, He took the phone clutched in her hand and started dialing the last received number before she could react.
‘Relax Khushi, nikal hi raha hu ek minute mei’, Arnav heard the smile in Aman's voice at the other end.
‘Aman. Hey!’ Arnav said.
There was a pause before Aman replied in a surprised voice, ‘Arnav! Hi dude! I thought you'd left for work. How are you?’
Arnav couldn't help but reply warmly. ‘I'm good, Aman. Khushi said you wanted to catch up with me too. I realized I don't have to be at the office right now. Why don't you stay put at the hotel? I'll bring Khushi along. Where are you staying?’
‘Sounds great!’ gushed Aman, ‘I'm staying at the Oberoi. Room no 244.’
‘Cool, we'll see you soon then.’ Arnav said, before hanging up and turning to Khushi, who still hadn't moved, an unreadable expression on her face.
It was obvious that she didn't look too pleased to have him accompany her to meet Aman, he thought annoyed. ‘Well ... too bad, he thought to himself, ‘She was his wife, and they would visit any friends as a couple, whether she liked it or not,’
‘Taiiyaar nahi hona kya’, he reminded her silkily instead, when she continued to stay rooted to where she was, lost in her thoughts.
‘Huh …’ she looked up towards him, looking down at his extended hand where her mobile lay.
‘Chalna nahi hain kya?’ Arnav added patiently, putting her phone into his pocket when she did not reach out to take it.
Shaking herself out of her reverie, Khushi blurted accusingly, ‘par aap toh office vapas jaa rahe they na… toh…’
‘Koi important kaam nahi hain’, Arnav assured her. ‘Ab niklen?’
‘Par …’ Khushi started again, unsure of what was going on here. Her joy at meeting with Aman suddenly turning into trepidation at this new turn of events.
Arnav just raised an eyebrow, stalling any further comments from her.
He watched Khushi walk slowly towards the cupboard, putting together her handbag, lost in thought.
Khushi started when she felt him walk up to stand close behind her. ‘Tum akele jaana chaahti hon?, he said, leaning close so that his warm breath tickled her ear.
Khushi turned around angry at the way he was playing with her. Not prepared for his nearness, her eyes widened in alarm as she tried to take a step back, only to find herself against the cupboard. His hands reached out to steady her, as he watched her falter against the door. Holding her between him and the door Arnav stared in fascination, forgetting his annoyance as he took in her flushed face and wide eyes. His gaze dropped to her lips and his eyes darkened.
‘Hum …’ she began, her voice fading out, as she watched wide-eyed, his face close in on hers. She drew in a sharp breath as she felt his strong lips take her quivering soft ones in a sudden deep kiss. Forgetting what it was she wanted to say when Arnav’s mouth was so hot and his tongue was searching for a response from hers. The room faded and all she could concentrate on was the sense of him, so large, so strong, and so very delicious.