A voice was calling out to her from afar and also shaking her shoulder … how could that be possible, Khushi thought dreamily. If the same person was shaking her shoulder then the voice should have been much closer … it sounded like jiji … Khushi opened her eyes groggily, to find jiji sitting next to her and shaking her gently.
Natural sunlight was flooding the room, and Khushi winced in pain as the sharp rays hit her sleep filled eyes.
‘What happened?’ she tried to sit up
‘Keep lying’ Payal gently pushed her back, ‘you are obviously exhausted … I’ll get your lunch here only’.
“Par hum …’ started Khushi, when the memories of this morning came flooding back as she looked about her and her eyes fell on the red dupatta draped on a chair. She groaned and fell back against the pillow, shutting her eyes. She had fainted again, and in his arms … again … I really have to stop doing that, she chided herself silently.
‘Are you alright…’ jiji asked seeing her fall back on the pillows with a groan ‘Khushi?’
‘Yes, I am okay jiji … just getting a little used to being married,’ she added cheekily, trying to cheer up herself and her sister. ‘And thanks for taking off all that ...’ she gestured to the side table where all her jewellery lay.
‘Oh … no … that was Arnav,’ Payal corrected her. ‘Your jiju and I had stopped at the market and reached here much later. He had already settled you in and made you comfortable.’ ‘And also left you a wedding gift,’ She added naughtily eyeing the ring on Khushi’s hand.
Khushi lifted her hand and stared at the sparkling solitaire twinkling in the sunlight. She suddenly felt uncomfortable, thinking of him removing all her jewellery and the putting the ring on her finger all the while she was unconscious.
The ring felt strangely heavy on her finger as did the mangalsutra that was now around her neck. It was not a weight that she was uncomfortable with, Khushi realized suddenly. In fact it was giving her a sense of security that she could not understand completely.
‘We need to shift your stuff into Arnav’s room after you have eaten,’ jiji broke her chain of thoughts as she walked in with a tray laden with food.
‘Huh…’ Khushi blushed again. Hey devi mayiyya, this was going to be much more difficult that either of them had imagined, she thought. Of course she would be expected to share his room, she thought, blocking thoughts of the double bed that sprang up immediately.
‘I’ll have to tell amma to pack your stuff also, to be brought here,’ jiji continued, as if speaking to herself. ‘You barely have anything to wear here. And now, you’ll be expected to wear sari’s … you can share some of mine for the time being … or should we just go pick up some clothes …’
Payal turned towards Khushi who was engrossed in eating the food as if she had come from a famine-ridden land. Smiling indulgently, she walked and sat at the edge of the bed and warned Khushi to eat slowly lest she choke and faint again. Khushi, with her mouth full, gave her a mock snicker and continued to eat.
When Arnav returned in the evening, he entered a quiet house. He had just had a harrowing day dealing with Lavanya who he had called to office. The last thing he had expected her to do was to throw the kind of ruckus she had, accusing him of not marrying her so that he could marry someone else instead. After the anger, came the wailing of how he had tricked her into a ‘live in’ relationship, and she in spite of warnings from everyone had agreed to it. It had finally taken his raised voice to silence her, and she had stormed out of his office in a fluster.
He had to now go to the Raizada House and deal with Di and Nani. Wanting to prolong the moment when he confronted them with his news, he had turned his car towards the farmhouse instead. He needed to be alone for a while. The Lavanya episode had left him quite stressed. He’d go there later tonight and probably sleep there, he decided, walking into his study to throw his papers and bag, before turning towards his room. He stopped outside the study door, looking towards the adjoining door, which was Khushi’s room. Yes, he’d spend the night at Raizada House, so that she could also be on her own. This mornings events had obviously been too much for her. He stepped towards her door and stopped halfway to opening it. Then changing his mind he stepped back and turned towards his own room.
Something was different. That was his first thought when he flung open the door to his bedroom. There was a familiar fragrance, and a warm glow enveloped the room, and him, as the lamps were all on. On the cupboard handle there was a hangar with a sari on it, below it a pair of gold high heels. The dresser was cluttered with jewellery and some lotions etc, which looked alien next to his stark masculine bottles of aftershave.
He could hear running water in the bathroom, and before he could react the door opened and out walked Khushi in a petticoat and blouse, and towel in hand. He stood motionless as he took in her rosy scrubbed glow; wet tendrils of hair escaping her hastily tied topknot and bare feet.
‘What are you doing here?’ his harsh voice jostled Khushi out of her own thoughts. She nearly jumped out of her skin dropping the towel that was in her hands. It fell silently pooled at her bare feet.
Arnav swallowed uncomfortably as he started at her slim barely-clad figure looking warily at him, outside the steamy bathroom door.
Khushi watched fascinated as he slowly advanced towards her. She was rooted to the spot like a prey watching the predator coming towards her.
He stopped just inches away from her, looking down at her wide doe eyes that continued to look up at him mesmerized. His eyes traveled down her face, stopping for a few seconds at her parted lips, and then down the path were her mangasutra nestled into the low neckline of her blouse. She had not removed it, he thought triumphantly, biting back a smile.
Khushi felt her skin prickle as he watched her slowly and sensually. She felt as if she was being undressed just by his glance. There was a torrent of emotion that she could not understand as shivers ran down her body arousing her. Arnav’s eyes stopped at her heaving breasts and he noted her aroused state with another elated smirk. If this was what he could achieve by just a glance, what would she do when he actually touched her, he wondered as certain parts of his body tightened involuntarily at the thought.
He had to touch her, Arnav decided, raising his hand. Holding her chin gently he tilted her head a little and very deliberately, his eyes never leaving hers, placed his lips on her rosy ones. Khushi sucked in a breath, and shut her eyes, unable to handle what she was seeing in his. Arnav deepened the kiss, pulling her closer to him till there were merged as one. She was soft and pliant, as she let him take over, placing her hands around his neck to steady herself. She felt her skin tingle where his palm was on her bare back. It was leaving a sharp imprint as it traveled up towards the hooks of her blouse, which he deftly undid one by one.
His mouth left her lips and Khushi moaned her displeasure, only to trail soft kisses down her cheek and neck and finally reach her shoulder where he nudged off the blouse with his mouth to expose the creamy skin. As his lips encountered the slim strap of her bar, his hands again reached up and undid the hooks, while his mouth made short work of removing the straps from the shoulder.
Arnav lifted his head from her shoulder to return to take her lips again, and stopped midway when he saw the sensuous picture she made – her head thrown back in passion; the top of her lush breasts exposed where the blouse had gathered below her shoulders and her slim fingers clutching his biceps as she tried to remain stead on her feet.
That was all the encouragement Arnav needed, as he bent low, swooped her up in his arms and turned to carry her to the bed to finish what he had started.
An urgent knock on the door stalled his progress and putting her down gently he pushed her behind him, his muscular frame covering her shivering figure completely from the door. He immediately took off his coat and silently handed it back to her giving her a minute to get her composure back.
‘Bhai’ Aakash’s urgent voice came through the door, with another series of knocks. Making sure that he had completely covered Khushi’s slight frame with his own, he called out to Aakash to come in. Damn, he had not even bolted the door before he had pounced on her like a teenager with over active hormones!
‘Bhai,’ Aakash walked in apologizing for disturbing them ‘you are not picking up your phone.’
Phone, wondered Arnav, ‘I must have left it in the car or study,’ he added, trying to remember where it could be.
‘There’s been an accident, bhai…’ Aakash started.
‘You go to the study, Aakash,’ Arnav took charge, ‘I’ll just join you.’
As the door shut behind a troubled looking Aakash, Arnav turned towards Khushi and asked her gently if she was all right.
She could only nod, as she snuggled deeper into his coat, embarrassed to meet his eyes. What had just happened here? She wondered, her cheeks turning a pretty pink as she recalled her wanton behavior.
‘I’ll just go and deal with Akash,’ Arnav moved forward to touch her, but stopped when she automatically stepped backward. ‘You want me to send your sister to you?’ he asked instead.
Khushi shook her head mutely, eyes still downcast. God forbid, jiji would see her in his state!
‘Aap jaiye,’ she whispered softly, turning her back to him.
‘Bhai, there has been an accident in Lucknow,’ Aakash said as soon as Arnav walked into the study.
Khushi’s parents! Was Arnav’s first thought, fearing the worst.
‘Shyam jiju…’ Aakash told, how Shyam had been involved in a road accident and was no more. ‘But what was he doing in Lucknow, Bhai?’ Aakash looked perplexed.
Arnav racked his brain to come up with an answer to that, all the while a million thoughts racing through his head – Di!
‘We’ll have to go to Lucknow immediately,’ Arnav started instructing Aakash to book tickets, ‘Has anyone called nani? … Di?’
He began issuing firm instructions as he took charge of the situation. He realized that he would have to confide in Aakash the entire truth, as they both had to now ensure that no one else in the family was hurt anymore.
He would fill Aakash in on the short flight to Lucknow. They would get the body back and have the proper funeral ceremonies. No one need know the truth about Shyam Jha’s real character. Yes, that would be the best for Di. There was no point in causing her any more grief, than what she would be faced with now.
He gave a cynical shrug, as he remembered all the fasts and prayers his sister did over the years for her husband’s long life, and once more his skepticism in the sanctity of marriage vows was justified.
He did not have a change to speak with Khushi again, but his last instruction to Akash, as he found his phone in the study and started making calls was, to ask Payal to go and be with his wife.
Khushi’s married life started with the pressure of handling a tragedy. Arnav and Aakash had left for Lucknow on the first available flight. Payal and Khushi had left immediately for Raizada House at summons from mamiji.
Her few passionate moments shared with her husband seemed eons ago and Khushi got immersed in attending to visiting guests and relatives, all of who started streaming in to offer their condolences.
Anjali had fainted on hearing the news of her husband’s accident and was still comatose in her room. Payal jiji had instructed Khushi to look after her, while she herself attended to the other requirements in the household.
Nani had agreed whole-heartedly, and also welcomed Khushi into the house in a sedate manner. The same could not be said for mami, who had refrained from her sarcastic comments, seeing the gravity of the situation. But Khushi realized that she would not be spared in the near future.
That is how Khushi spent her wedding night, at the bedside of her sister-in-law who kept drifting in and out of unconsciousness the whole night. Khushi soothed her sweaty brow; calmed her when she woke up agitated and lulled her back to sleep the entire night.
And that was how Arnav found her the next morning when he retuned home and entered his sister’s room. His lovely wife was curled up on the floor, her head resting on the bed, fast asleep, while holding Di’s hand. Di was still unconscious, and Arnav was loath to wake either of them to tell them that the men would be soon leaving for the cremation. He gave them both a tender look and turned and left quietly.
Sharing the truth with Aakash had been a good idea, Arnav realized as together they handled nani’s questions about Shyam’s presence in Lucknow. Di was still in a distracted state, and the doctor had advised keeping her sedated for a while, as she was under severe shock. Arnav was thankful for Khushi’s presence in the house, as it seemed to calm Di whenever she was in her wakeful state.
They had not had a moment alone, though he was aware of her presence in his room everywhere, through her clothes and stuff scattered in the bathroom and dresser. She slept in Di’s room, in fact he was not aware that she had volunteered and actually insisted on doing so, when nani had suggested that she stay with Arnav.
It was after the prayers on the fourth day of the funeral, that Arnav found her alone in his room, leaning her forehead against the cool glass door of the cupboard in a moment of fatigue. Walking up to her, he held her shoulder and gently turned her around. She was simply dressed in a cream sari with a thin red border. His ring and mangalsurta the only pieces of jewellery on her other than a pair of solitaire earrings and gold kadas that he knew belonged to his mother, that nani must have given her a few days ago. He saw the dark circles under her tired eyes, and saw the change that had taken place in the last four days in her demeanor. This was not the bubbly, loudly dressed girl who used to visit the house when Lavanya was there. Had he succeeded in killing that innocence and never-say-die spirit that a part of him had grudgingly grown to admire?
Without a word he gently pulled her exhausted form towards him, and was pleasantly surprised when he found no resistance from her.
Khushi leaned gratefully into his chest and felt his arms securing her in his warm embrace. She was suddenly so tired and spent. It had been an exhausting few days and her mind was constantly filled with thoughts and worry of Anjaliji.
Arnav held her silently, no words exchanged between them as they stood in silence. He wanted to thank her for looking after his sister, but words seemed inappropriate at the moment.
Khushi felt him place a gentle kiss atop her head, but then brushed it aside as a figment of her imagination. ‘Are you okay? She heard him murmur somewhere in her hair, that had been hastily curled into a bun by her this morning.
She just nodded, still against his chest, not having any energy to say something. ‘You are good for Di…’ he started, unable to find the words to actually thank her formally.
Khushi looked up into his downturned face and searched his eyes for something more than just gratitude. The mask was down, years of blocking his feelings had ingrained the auto response in him, and all Khushi encountered was an intense stare that she could not fathom.
She felt a chill suddenly and stiffened automatically. It had been running in her mind constantly the last few days, as she was spending her time alone in Anjaji’s room, that this marriage was in vain after all. The reason for Arnav marrying her was gone now. Where were they now? Till she could, she had avoided being in his room, choosing to be with Anjaliji, but how long would that last before the family settled down into a routine and she was expected to move into her husbands room.
She slowly extracted herself from his embrace, feeling bereft of his warmth. ‘I have to go…’ she stammered, and in classic Khushi style that was becoming a regular feature with him, ran out of the room, before he could react.
Arnav stood still for a few seconds wondering what happened suddenly, before shrugging his shoulders and also moving out of the room.
It was a week later that one morning, Anjali stepped out of her room, dressed in her signature net sari, jewellery intact and sindoor on her forehead. All the ladies of the house, gathered in the mandir for the morning aarti, were stunned, as she walked into the mandir and resumed her morning rituals. Nani was the first to understand the effect the trauma had had on Anjali, and gestured for all of them silently to play along. Anjali behaved as if nothing had happened, her mind blocking out the memory of the last two weeks completely. She chattered about her husband being away, and went about her work in the house as usual. Lacunar amnesia, the doctor explained to them later. When there is the loss of memory about one specific event.
Khushi realized that now there was no escape from her shifting back into Arnav’s room. Anjaliji would find it odd that she was sharing the room with her instead of her husband. Khushi was a bundle of nerves all day as the clock ticked closer to evening when she knew he would return from office.
She was helping with the dinner in the kitchen when he arrived home in the evening and went straight up to his room. Jiji kept insisting that Khushi go join him, but she remained where she was, wishing to assist Payal instead. It was when he came down later to join them at the dining table that Khushi finally saw him. Dressed in a casual cotton shirt, sleeves rolled back to reveal his rippling biceps, and linen trousers, he looked calm and collected as compared to her harried and stressed self. She and jiji served everyone as they all took their respective seats at the dining table.
Anjali sitting next to Arnav started talking about her husband not calling her today, her eyes tearful. Khushi standing between her and Arnav’s chairs saw him turn towards his sister to say something, and instinctively she placed a hand on his shoulder stopping him. He stalled in the act of turning around, as he felt her hand press firmly on his shoulder as if telling him something. It was more the familiarity with which the act happened than it’s meaning that had silenced Arnav. He liked the feel of her hand on his shoulder, as if she had a right to him. He wished he could hold that hand and pull her down next to him to eat together, but realized that would probably scare the living daylights out of her.
Dinner over, Khushi stalled as much as she could, offering to even wash the dishes, press nani’s feet till she slept and anything else she could think of to avoid going up to his room. When she finally ran out of excuses and started getting pointed looks from jiji did Khushi trudge upstairs grudgingly. Uff, what a mess he had gotten her into... she cursed Arnav.
When she heard his ‘come in’ on knocking at the door timidly, she entered and stood near the door unsure of what to do. He was sitting on the chair with his laptop, with the television running on some news channel. And had that bed shrunk in size, Khushi thought panicking, and clutching at her pallu nervously.
He looked up questioningly, and before he could say anything, she blurted out accusingly, ‘this was your idea! Remove me from the scene … marry you!’
‘Now what?’ she continued, before he could respond, ‘has the problem gotten solved? Have you worked out the next contract? You can’t stand the sight of me remember? Now what are you going to do?’ she was standing her hands akimbo all her anger and tension erupting at the sight of him sitting coolly and working. While she had been stressing about this moment the entire evening. How dare he look so cool and controlled! She fumed. If only he had not reacted in his usual style, she would not have been in this utter mess.
‘And if you had not wrapped my unfaithful brother-in-law in your charms in the first place, I would not have been forced to do this either,’ he stopped her ranting, harshly.
Shutting the laptop screen with a sharp click, he picked up his papers and walked out to the poolside, where he settled down to work. Let her have the room to herself, he thought infuriated. And here he was looking forward to spending some time with her, to explore what they were feeling in those few passionate interludes.
Khushi stood, unsure for a few seconds before muttering ‘FINE’ and plonked on the bed picking up the remote surfing channels. She finally stopped on a channel they were showing ‘Dabbang’ and Salman Khan being a favourite, was soon engrossed in it.
When it finished a couple of hours later, Khushi looked guiltily at the door, realizing that Arnav was still outside. It was a chilly October night, and she felt worse seeing that he had been there for close to two hours now.
Hastily getting up, she ran out and nearly skidded to a halt when she saw him fast asleep with his head thrown back on the chair. She stood uncertainly, not knowing what to do. When her reasoning finally got the better of her she walked up to him and hesitatingly put her hand on his shoulder trying to wake him up. It was ridiculous, letting him sleep here like this in the cold, she justified to herself.
Just one small shake was enough to wake Arnav out of his uncomfortable slumber. He opened his eyes to see Khushi leaning over him, her hand on his shoulder. Giving her a sleepy smile, he held her hand and pulled her into his lap as if it was the most natural thing to do. Unprepared for the action, Khushi automatically steadied herself by placing her arms around his neck. His sleep filled eyes started intently into her surprised ones. And before she could react, he pulled her closer, bridging the distance between their faces and started kissing her startled lips.
Khushi collapsed into him willingly, forgetting all her intentions to blame him for her ills and fight with him. All her neat plans, about their sleeping arrangements were out of the window, as she reveled in the sensations he was arousing in her. Arnav lay back on the chair and pulled her atop him. Her hair, which had by now escaped the topknot created a curtain on either side of his upturned face, as she looked down at him with passion filled eyes. This time swooping down to initiate the kiss herself.
As if that was all the signal he need Arnav gave a triumphant groan and let his hands wander towards her pallu, removing it with a smooth flick. Standing up in one smooth motion, he picked her up from his lap and into the cradle of his arms, walking towards their room in an unhurried saunter, the pallu of the sari, trailing behind them.
As he laid her gently on the bed, Khushi opened her passion filled eyes, and watched him switch off the tv and secure the doors. He walked back to the bed, and watched her in the glow of the lamp light for a few seconds. It was the most sensual sight he has ever seen – her hair spread in a tousled state on the pillow, her sari pallu on the floor exposing her firm breasts accentuated by the deep breathing. Arnav knelt beside the bed and placed soft kisses on her exposed navel, moving up towards the hooks of her blouse that he opened one by one, his eyes watching the various emotions flitting across her face. He parted the folds of her blouse to reveal her white cotton bra. Making a mental memo to himself, to buy his wife some decent lingerie tomorrow, Arnav continued to nibble across her half exposed breasts and up her neck to her face to claim her lips again.
It was the fatigue he had seen reflected in those eyes, that made Arnav arrive to a decision, as he continued to undress her slowly and sensually, enjoying watching her wondrous reactions to his every move. Seeing the effect that his look and touch had over his innocent wife, gave him a feeling of power he had never experienced before.
When he had her completely bare against him, he half lifted her supple frame into his arms his lips zeroing in on her breasts. Khushi pulled in a ragged breath as his hot mouth took first one then the other firm breast into his mouth, as if paying homage to them. She clutched his shirtsleeves wondering dreamily why he was still dressed. She took her hands shyly to the buttons running down the front of his shirt and started opening them one by one.
Before she could complete the task, Arnav’s wandering mouth brought all rational thought and action of hers to a halt as he reached the very core of her feminity. Khushi cried out loud as he continued nibbling at her, his fingers joining his mouth in pleasuring her completely. The vortex of emotions that was building up in her was a totally new sensation and Khushi tensed against the ministrations of his lips.
‘Jut let go, sweetheart,’ he whispered as he continued to bring her to the brink of passion she had never felt before. She relaxed her taut body and suddenly felt her whole being spiral out of control. She wanted to stop him … she wanted him not to stop … she was in a whirlpool of passion and rising higher and higher as he was taking her from one peak to another.
Screaming out his name hoarsely, she finally collapsed spent as he gathered her flushed body into his arms, hushing her as she felt tears well up in her eyes. She clung to her husband’s half opened shirt, tears of joy … relief … and a million other emotions bursting from her eyes. It was as if he had burst the dam of her emotions and penetrated her heart through and through. Yes, she admitted to herself, as the sobs racked her slight frame … she was in love, and there was no point in denying it. Her heart had seen though his cold wall, his cruel words and strict demeanor… her heart was his ... and it was so clear to her now.
Arnav held her tight while she sobbed herself to sleep against his wet shirtfront. He felt like a heel … why had he not controlled his wayward libido. What he thought was a sensitive gesture had turned out to be a disaster, as she had burst into tears as if he had forced himself upon her. His heart ached at having caused her this pain and grief. He had just caused her pain from the day they had met. His temper and ego always getting the better of him. But today he had just gone too far, he thought with a twinge of guilt. Today he had just crossed every line, he told himself angrily.
When he saw that she had fallen asleep, he gently placed her on the bed. Looking into the cupboard and not finding her nightwear, he pulled out a bulky t-shirt of his and gently made her wear it, careful not to wake her up.
Tucking her into the bed under the covers, he changed into his tracks and settled down on the small sofa, his mind in chaos over this new turn of events.