‘We should go down and get some food,’ he murmured huskily against her lips. Khushi opened her bemused eyes slowly to look at his handsome face above hers. The dupatta from her head was somewhere on the floor, the chill of the night air now sharp on her exposed back. She was clutching his lapels, all thoughts of hunger or thirst forgotten.
‘ummmm…’ she murmured, not wanting to move out of his warm embrace.
‘You need to eat something...’ he reminded her gently, still from somewhere near her lips.
‘ummmm…’ she agreed, half listening.
‘Well then, in that case …’ bending to first pick up and drape the dupatta back on her shoulders, he swiftly swooped down and lifted her in his arms. Startled, she instinctively put her arms around his neck for support.
‘Chalen?’ he looked roguishly into her now wide eyes, his eyes dropping to her swollen red lips. ‘We can continue this after dinner…’ he promised, as he carried her down the stairs into the drawing room.
‘Did she faint?’ Jiji was the first to notice them, and stood up worried, joined by Anjali.
They settled her into a chair, next to where Arnav sat himself, after making her comfortable. Khushi embarrassed with all the sudden attention, blushed prettily, unable to articulate anything. The aromas drifting from the dishes laid out on the table, brought back the hunger pangs with a vengeance, and she gratefully accepted being served by Anjali, who was also seated beside her.
As both Arnav and she took their first morsels of food into their mouth, they heaved a sign of relief, simultaneously.
‘Why are YOU signing with relief, Arnav,’ Nani mocked him, ‘its your wife who fasted… er … though you did leave in the morning without breakfast …’
‘And you refused lunch too, bhai,’ Akash piped in, his mind putting two and two together and looking up at Arnav, wide-eyed.
‘YOU FASTED!’ he said in disbelief, his next morsel stalled mid-air.
All stunned seven pairs of eyes turned towards Arnav, astonishment, amazement, and surprise echoing in all them. Everyone had stopped eating, and was staring at him flabbergasted.
Arnav gagged on the food already in his mouth, and he started turning a shade of deep red. Khushi, forgetting her own food, immediately reached out to pat his back and offer him a glass of water.
Six pairs of eyes now watched with varied degrees of affection, as Khushi, oblivious of where they were, was busy asking him if he was okay, and lecturing him to eat slowly.
‘Enough…’ Arnav, embarrassed at suddenly being the centre of attention, firmly but gently, said aloud.
‘Chote…’ Anjali was not one to give up. ‘I cannot believe … you actually fasted with your wife… aur hume itna …’
‘Di… please…’ He was mortified beyond belief. ‘Can we all eat …’.
‘Haan, Chote, par ..’
‘Di…’ he said warningly.
He had fasted with her … Khushi continued to stare at him shaken with the discovery. Why had he done that? And why didn’t he tell her earlier …
‘Eat …’ he commanded gruffly meeting her stare, with his own, and gesturing towards her plate with his eyes.
Six pairs of eyes smiled … knowingly.
He was not in the room, when Khushi came up after helping clear up and spending some time with nani in her room. She had once again stalled coming back to the room, not knowing how to react to this new information that she had just received.
He had fasted with her … and not made a noise too about it ... like you had, she reminded herself, feeling ashamed. But why had he fasted? He did not believe in all these fasts and rituals … yet he had returned in time for her puja, in spite of all that she had said to him earlier. She shut her eyes in humiliation as she opened the doors of their room.
‘Phir maafi maange…’ she chided herself … how many times will she say sorry to him, for always thinking the worst.
Looking about the room, she saw the door leading to the poolside open and tiptoed out as softly as she could, her anklets surely giving her away.
The tinkle of her anklets as she tried to creep up to him from behind, brought a small smile to Arnav’s lips. He remembered how he had caught her doing it once long ago on some festival day … what was it? … she had even winked at him that day to play along with her for some excuses she had been making for La. He had been completely taken aback that day, he recalled fondly. What exactly had she been creeping up to him for, he wondered now, a slight frown marring his forehead. Come to think of it, he had never come to know, as she had run off as soon as he had turned around and questioned her. Yes, what had she been up to, he wondered again, making a mental note to ask her when he could.
But for now, he sat and waited patiently for her to come closer. Close enough for him to reach out and take her in his arms.
‘Khushi…’ he whispered, checking if she was awake.
‘Hmmmm,’ she mumbled sleepily, nestling into the crook of his arm.
She opened one eye, and looked up at his head resting on the pillow. Looking towards the clock, she noticed the late hour, recalling shyly of the amount of time they had spent earlier in the bed, before she had drifted into a deep sleep in his arms. Why was he still awake, she wondered drowsily?
‘You remember, that day, when there was some puja in the house, and there was that commotion about nani’s tulsi plant?’ he asked her softly.
‘Hmmm,’ she murmured again, wondering what he was talking about, her mind falling back into a haze as sleep slowly took over again.
‘Why were you creeping up on me … Khushi?’ he started saying, and hearing a small snore, stopped.
Looking down indulgently at her sleeping figure, tucked in the crook of his arm, her head on his bare shoulder, Arnav felt a gush of protectiveness, and tightened his grip on her shoulders. He smirked, recalling how she had rushed to the bathroom, gathering the bed sheets about her earlier. She had returned clad in her simple cotton salwar kameeze, and blushed when she had seen him tucked in bed, the sheet pulled up over his bare toned abs, arms behind his head. Seeing her discomfiture, he had naughtily lifted the sheet to show her his track lowers, winking cheekily.
Looking at her now, curled up against him comfortably, Arnav thought how far they had come from the day of that fashion show in Lucknow. A part of him hoped that she could grow to love him, like he did now. He realized that he was not a very demonstrative person, shying from the idea of being too close to anyone. But she was slowly changing that in him, with her innocent charm, and interminable chutzpah.
Shutting his eyes, Arnav too fell asleep, a satisfied smile on his lips.
Er … why was she pacing the room and brushing her teeth? Arnav opened his sleepy eyes to see dawn breaking into their room, and Khushi muttering and walking up and down, toothbrush in her mouth.
He watched her, oblivious of his presence, leaning up on an elbow on the bed. ‘Kya kar rahi ho tum?’ he asked softly when she crossed close to where he was lying.
Khushi stopped pacing, and looked at him accusingly. ‘Aap hume roz late kara deten hain… I have to be down in the mandir for the aarti, and because of you I sleep late …’ her muffled voice trailed off as she saw the look on his face. Here she was agitating at being late again, and he was finding it funny, trying to control his laughter. Well, he did not have to face the knowing looks that would greet her when she did make it down.
‘You’re not late … you’ll make it’, he assured, glancing at his watch ‘if you stop taking your morning walk while brushing your teeth, that is.’ He added playfully.
‘Par hume sab se pehele …’ she started petulantly…
‘Accha … sorry,’ he cut her mid sentence. Funny, but he didn’t look one bit sorry. He looked quite pleased with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Ever since he had stared saying ‘sorry’ he just would not stop it seemed.
Khushi eyed him warily, and with a loud ARRGGGGGGGH stormed off into the bathroom.
Rushing out 10 minutes later, she went about getting her jewellery and kajal in place, all the while aware of him leaning back against the headboard, arms crossed over his bare chest, looking invitingly at her. His eyes twinkled, as if he could read her thoughts, and Khushi fumbled with her earrings, turning prettily pink.
‘Please stop looking at me…’ she muttered, dropping the earring for a second time from her trembling fingers. He really should stop smiling, she thought to herself. It transformed his stern face, and caused her heart to flutter out of control. She had barely been able to come to terms with his constant anger and irritation, and now this new side … that was much more difficult to cope with.
‘Main kar doon…’ breaking into her thoughts, he flung the sheet aside and started getting out of the bed.
With a squeak Khushi picked up the earring and scurried out of the room, hearing his roar of laughter behind her.
Arnav decided to come home earlier than usual, seeing that Khushi had been angry with him in the morning, and had avoided him throughout breakfast. He had even delayed his leaving for office, under some pretext or the other, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. Till finally, Di asked him point blank what he was waiting for, and giving her a gruff answer, he had walked out of the house.
Looking at his watch, he realized that it was late afternoon and the rest of the family would be in their rooms resting, till teatime at least. That was good enough time to coax her out of her bad mood, in the privacy of their room, he thought with a smile, opening the main door and letting himself in.
The smile was instantly replaced by a small frown, when he heard Khushi’s peal of laugher coming from the direction of the dining table. Added to which was another baritone saying something in English and telling her to behave herself.
He stood at the door listening to the camaraderie, his frown increasing. Throwing his bag on the chair nearby, he walked into the dining room, coming to an abrupt halt.
Khushi struggled with the dialogue of ‘My Fair Lady’, that Harry was showing her on his laptop. She had earplugs connected to her ear through which she could hear and repeat, while Harry sat beside her pausing the film occasionally and laughing with her over some of her mistakes. She would laugh at something she was trying to repeat and he looked at her mock angrily, telling her to concentrate or behave.
Arnav watched, his temper rising, as his lovely wife articulated something, carefully looking towards a young t-shirt and jeans clad … stud for approval. Arnav noticed that his bright neon coloured t-shirt hugged his bulging biceps and chest perfectly, and even though he was seated, it was not long before Arnav’s eyes narrowed in anger and his fists clenched as the young stud stood up, showing low slung jeans that hugged his slim hips, and looked as if they would fall any moment. ‘What the …’ Arnav muttered as he watched the dining chair, on which the young stud sat, thrown back; watched with rising anger that he stood, pulled off a shocked Khushi’s earplugs throwing them on the table and pulled her up into his arms, lifted her off the floor, and twirling them both around. Khushi shrieked placing her hands on his shoulder to steady herself, and laughed in glee, as the young man shouted ‘yessss … you did it!’ with every twirl of their embraced bodies.
His eyes narrowed to slits and fists clenched slowly, as he started at the scene before him.
Khushi felt an uncomfortable prickle at the back of her neck. Her body stiffened in Harry’s arms, and her laughter died on her lips as her eyes met the furious ones of her husband. Harry, also sensing her sudden rigid frame, stopped, and slowly turning around with her aloft, and also looked into a pair of furious eyes, that were looking at him as if they could kill him. He gradually put Khushi down gently, stuffing his hands into the pocket of his jeans and standing beside her, while he sensed her fear. So this is the husband, that Shakshi had been telling him about. Harry had heard in detail, how he had dragged Khushi out of that bachelorette party few days ago, like a caveman.
He turned to look at a cringing Khushi, and wondered if he should try and give an explanation. ‘Er … hi …’ he said sheepishly instead, reaching out a hand towards Arnav.
Giving him a smoldering glare and ignoring the outstretched hand, Arnav turned on his heels and stormed off towards their room, leaving both Khushi and Harry standing there like errant children.
‘Er …. hum … er,’ Khushi turned apologetically towards Harry.
‘Chill…’ he assured her instead with a grimace towards the rigid departing back. ‘You did well today, we’ll celebrate soon, okay…’ he added. Hearing a door bang upstairs, he turned back towards Khushi and asked softly, ‘you’ll be okay, na?’
Khushi swallowed and nodded trying to reassure herself more than him. ‘Haan, hum theek hain, aapse kal milenge … er … thank you.’
After seeing him to the door, she walked slowly up the stairs … ‘serves you right Khushi Kumari …. er … Khushi. You wanted the Lord Governor back this morning only …’ she made a face, ‘… didn’t like him smiling and speaking to you … well then … here he is now…’
‘Pata nahi … ab kya kya bolenge hume …’ she muttered standing outside the door for a minute, before going inside.
He was standing with his back to her looking out towards the pool visible from their room. She looked at his rigid stance and actually felt the anger emanating from him. His coat had been flung across the bed; his sleeves rolled up, the bare muscular forearms and clenched fists held away from his body.
A sudden gush to run to him and put her arms around him from behind was immediately quelled when he turned suddenly, his penetrating glare pinning her to the spot.
He glared her for a bit, while she fidgeted with the corner of her palla.
‘Aap aaj jaldi aa gaye…’ she began weakly, wanting to break the awful silence.
‘You were not expecting me, I know,’ he cut her shortly, his cold stare not leaving her face. ‘How convenient, that every one else was also asleep…’
‘Kya …’ she looked confused, ‘kya keh rahen hai aap…’
‘Don’t start with the innocent act again, Khushi,’ he warned menacingly ‘I just saw you with some … some … WHO THE HELL WAS THAT?’ He shouted suddenly pointing towards the door.
‘Harry?’ Khushi asked quizzically, looking towards where his hand was pointing.
‘Are you asking me?’ he sneered getting angrier by the minute at her stalling, ‘or telling me?’
‘Wo Harry … er … I told you ... he comes to…’
‘Comes to WHAT?’ He thundered again, making her wince. ‘What does he …’
‘Aap baat khatam karne deenge toh hum bataenge …’ she answered crossly, cutting him mid sentence.
‘LET ME FINISH,’ he ground out, livid at being once again cut off like that.
‘Finish? Kya finish … hum … I am only saying that you are not giving me a chance to say…’ she said irritated and also angry that he was once again blaming and accusing her without knowing anything.
‘What does ‘HARRY’ come to do… that requires him to hold you like that and …’ he shut his eyes, trying to control his rising temper as images of her laughing and holding on to that boy’s shoulders flashed before him again. HOW DARE ANYONE TOUCH HER!
‘Aap phir nahi sun rahe…’ Khushi tried patiently but firmly to get her words across to him.
‘Chillaiye mat’, she again cut him off, ‘sab aaram kar rahe hain ghar mein.’
She knew she had done it again, the minute the words were out of her lips. She watched in horror as he strode across to where she was standing across the room. Instinctively, she took a few tentative steps back as he reached her and grabbed her by her shoulders, shaking her forcefully.
‘Didn’t I just tell you to let me finish,’ his chilly voice sent a shiver down her spine, and she felt his fingers biting into her skin through the sheer fabric of her blouse.
‘And do not EVER tell me what to do and what not to do … SAMJHI TUM,’ he continued to shake her with every word he ground out.
‘Hum…’ not one to be put down, she started answering him.
‘WHO IS HE?’ Arnav asked again, ignoring her muttering.
She kept looking at him, her eyes slightly wet with the sudden tears at being hurt like that.
‘BOLO’, he gave her a violent shake.
‘Aap bolne denge toh hum kuch …
‘KHUSHI…’ he warned
‘Humne nahi bulaya unhe,’ she shot at him angry at being spoken to and rattled like a rag doll. ‘You speak with naniji, about that. She was the one who brought him here.’ She tried to shake off his hands from her shoulders.
‘She came up with the idea that I need to learn a few things, to be able to be called your wife,’ she all but sneered out the word ‘wife’ at him, missing the fury that was still glowing in his eyes.
‘He has become a close friend, I told you. When you left me and went off to … to Paris … he and Sakshi were … and YOU … ‘ she had managed to shake his hands off her shoulder and was jabbing her finger at him as she spoke, pushing him backwards. ‘I go through all this because of YOU … when YOU decide to save your sister … when YOU decide to deal with things … when YOU decide to marry me …’ she paused for a breath, continuing to glare back at him.
‘And for YOU I even agree to change my self … just so YOU Mr Arnav Singh Raizada are not embarrassed …’
‘ENOUGH’… he held her hands mid air, as they were about to poke him with the next ‘YOU’…
Taking her hands in his he twisted them behind her back, pulling her closer to his firm chest in the bargain.
‘I did not ask you to change ... I did not ask you to learn English ... I did not ask you to dress differently …
‘Par hum…’ she shot at him
‘SHUT UP AND LET ME FINISH …’ he pulled her closer his fingers pressing into her wrists painfully.
‘YOU don’t have to change for me … I LOVE YOU AS YOU ARE, DAMMIT!’ He shouted before a stunned silence engulfed both of them.
They stood like that in the painful embrace; both shocked at what was just said.
Khushi stared at him her mouth slightly open, as she was about to say something, her tear filled eyes wide with shock. The pain in her wrists abated, as she digested what she had just heard.
Arnav started at her intently, part of him glad to have that out, and a part stunned that he had actually said the words out aloud.
Seconds ticked as they just stood like that for what seemed like hours.
It was the sharp pain on her wrist where he was still holding her tight, that brought Khushi back, and she looked away from his penetrating stare, shyly, not knowing how to react to what he had just said. She tried to free her hand from his grip, looking up at him pleadingly.
The look in her eyes, jolted Arnav out of his silence, and he left her hand, abruptly turning away from her. Unbelievable man, he thought to himself, as he shut his eyes, aware of the awkward silence in the room. How could I just say that? What will she think now? Well, she was not immune to his touch, that he was sure of … and she was flustered whenever he was around … maybe … His heart skipped a beat. Yes, he decided suddenly, he would convince her to love him in return. He would make her admit it, whatever it took.
‘Er … aap … aap ke liye chai laaeyn…’ her hesitating question, broke his thoughts.
She saw him nod curtly, his back to her, and all but ran out of the room.