Recognizing the now familiar desire in his eyes, Khushi found herself aching for him…and in ways she’d never thought possible. Out of her own volition, her hands reached up and rested on the front of his black, collared leather jacket. It felt cold under her soft fingers even as they rested on it’s soft material.
Their gazes clashed with both acknowledging and conveying their mutual desire. It was raw and intense, crackling like live electricity in the tiny sliver of space separating them. The world around them appeared to flicker, blur and fade. As did reason and reality.
For a few moments they became oblivious to the fact that they stood in the middle of a bustling urban sidewalk with the midday sunshine bouncing off of the surrounding tall buildings and slanting on the roads, sidewalks and store fronts.
After a short while, Khushi became aware of not only the number of glances, some amused, mostly indifferent, they were being showered with…but also the fact that there was a high chance of bumping into an acquaintance outside a theater playing an Indian movie.
“Where are we going for lunch?, she asked with a little smile and the gentle push that accompanied her words prompted him to release her.
Shoving his hands into his jeans pockets, Arnav stepped back a little and an immediate flicker of understanding in his eyes filled Khushi’s heart with love and gladness.
“Where do you want to go?, he asked, slipping an arm around her waist and drawing her close even as they strolled past the windows of a Saks Fifth Avenue store , “There’s a PF Chang’s just around the corner. If you’re in the mood for Italian, Andiamo’s is just a couple of blocks away. And if you don’t mind a long walk…”.
“PF Chang’s please”, chimed Khushi without a second thought, her breath forming a cloud in front of her “All this sunshine is deceptive, It’s still far too cold to walk”.
A short walk later, they were settling in a semicircular booth that was upholstered in an oriental print jacquard fabric and curved around a cherry veneer round table. The ambience was warm and inviting with terra-cotta figurines, modern pendant lamps , large Chinese murals and sunshine steaming in from street facing windows.
Carefully folding her tan trench coat and placing it beside her, Khushi gazed as Arnav settled in opposite her. Her heart fluttered at the way his muscles rippled when he shrugged his leather jacket off and tossed it on the upholstered seat. Continuing to gaze surreptitiously from beneath her silken lashes, she thought with an inward sigh that it should be illegal to look so good. The slate blue of the long sleeve polo that he wore over jeans today suited him a lot, Khushi decided dreamily, and his lightly gelled hair and rimless glasses made him look so intriguingly unapproachable and …irresistible at the same time.
Fully aware of being thoroughly checked out and loving it too, Arnav leaned back in his seat, his smiling eyes relaxed and amused.
“So, what’s your verdict?, he spoke softly and suddenly, “Will I do?
“I guess..you will”, she teased, “I think I might be needing to make an eye appointment with you”.
Studying the faint color staining her smooth cheeks, Arnav just smiled in response…and then added after a pause, “Come closer, Khushi”.
The huskiness in his voice did funny things to her heart even as she readily scooted towards him, and met him in the middle of the curved booth. As their arms brushed, Arnav inhaled her scent contentedly and picked up a small hand resting on her lap with his. Resting them together on his thigh, his thumb traced abstract patterns on the back of her wrist while her skin prickled in an excruciating awareness.
“So you didn’t like the movie?”, she swallowed asked looking up at him.
“I wasn’t really paying attention”, he answered, the mischievous glint in his eyes reminding her of how he hadn’t been able to keep his hands off of her at the cinema. Sometimes catching hold of her hand and toying with it like he was now and sometimes casting his arm around her seat and lazily caressing her shoulder and upper arm with the back of his fingers. Her old friends, the jittery butterflies, had had a gala time in her stomach for pretty much the whole of the movie’s running time.
“But I have watched quite a few Hindi movies in the past. With my parents hogging our TV remote and watching Indian channels all the time, I couldn’t escape them even if I wanted to..”, he continued with his lips curving humorously, “And…well, I do remember enjoying some of them”.
“Like for example?, Khushi asked. This was a new facet to his personality that she was thrilled to discover and eager to explore.
He pursed his lips in concentration.
“Sholay…was good”, he said finally, meeting her gaze.
“I love that movie, said Khushi excitedly,”I loved Amitabh Bacchan’s character and Gabber Singh…and Dhanno, Hema Malini’s character”.
“Dhanno was the name of the mare”, interrupted Arnav with a laugh and even as Khushi corrected herself, a waitress came up to their table to introduce herself and take their orders. She was a personable young woman dressed in all black, pen and notepad in hand.
After she left with their orders, Khushi slipped her hand back into his hand and briefly rested her head on his shoulder. Casting him a sly look, she said, “For someone who professes to hate Hindi movies, you sure are very knowledgable”.
“You sound just like Ma. She is a big fan of Bollywood movies and has always nursed this secret…actually not so secret hope of turning me, her only offspring, into one too. She has deluded herself into believing that I’m a closet BW fan”, Arnav said with a smile…and notwithstanding the slight sardonic nature of his smile, Khushi could clearly see how fond he really was of his mother..
“She believes that watching Indian movies, apart from an assortment of other activities, would somehow keep me close to Indian culture. Baba used to disagree with her turning my upbringing into a tug of war of sorts. Much as he wanted me to stay close to our culture and religion, he believed that forcing someone to love something usually lead to the exact opposite effect. Much to Ma’s consternation, once I was old enough, he not only gave me complete freedom to make my own choices, but also the responsibility to deal with my own mistakes…with no help whatsoever from him..”.
At that point they were interrupted by the waitress arriving with their appetizers. Chicken Lettuce Wraps.
“I love these”, Khushi said happily, taking a bite.
“Don’t you have to check your blood sugar and take insulin first?
“Oh..if I skip doing it once in a while”, Khushi shrugged nonchalantly, “It won’t make much of a difference”.
Putting his fork down, Arnav stared at her, his eyes flickering with disbelief, “Dr. Gupta, is that what you tell your patients too?
“Oh…stop being so pompous Arnav…I’m not one of your residents…just let me eat in peace”.
“Hand me your bag…”, he said and turning a well practiced deaf ear to all her protests had soon retrieved her glucometer from her.
“Check it”, he ordered, placing the small meter on the table.
Sighing, Khushi turned to look at him, a mulish expression on her face.
“Let me make it clear right from the very beginning”, she began, “I don’t let anyone…anyone..period…boss me around”.
“Well, I guess I’m going to be your special exception then”, he said, even as he unzipped the glucometer case, picked up her left hand and began wiping a finger tip with an alcohol swab.
Observing the lancet prick marks that all her finger tips were riddled with, he asked, “How old were you when you got diagnosed with Diabetes?
“Eight”, replied Khushi, her eyes inexplicably softening as he pricked a fingertip for a drop of blood, applied it to the test strip and then wiped her finger clean.
“I remember thinking it was God’s punishment for being too greedy about candies”, Khushi said with a smile that wobbled a little when Arnav lifted her hand and kissed her fingertip. She caught a poignant glimpse of a father who still resided in a part of his soul and had become an intrinsic part of his nature. It made her heart wrench.
Nodding wordlessly, she shifted in her seat and turning towards him, craned her neck upward to press a kiss on his cheek.
Smoothly curving an arm around her shoulder, Arnav held her head in place, and turned his face to smarly convert the peck into a lightning kiss.
They broke apart just in the nick of time, or so they thought. Having arrived with their entrees, Amanda placed them on the table with an uncharacteristic pokerface, before withdrawing discreetly.
“I can’t believe you just kissed me at PF Chang’s”, Khushi said with a dazed expression.
The shadows on the now desolate sidewalks were lengthening by the time they emerged out of the restaurant. The temperature had dropped by several degrees with the sun nowhere in sight and the skies becoming overcast again. Not wanting the day to end just yet, Khushi tried stalling, pausing in front of each and every shop window and pretending to be interested in something of the other.
“Let’s go, Khush”, said Arnav, giving her arm a pull, “It’s getting really cold…and there’s a forecast of 2 inches in the evening”.
“One second. Look at these roses…I love that color”, she said peering inside an old fashioned florist’s shop that had “Ross & Stein, Estd 1935” emblazoned on the glass window in black letters.
“I always love flowers…but especially in winter…if you know what I mean”, she rambled on, talking just for the sake of talking, hoping to mask with her smile, the sudden indescribable heaviness in her heart. But she might just as well have saved her breath because the expression in Arnav’s eyes conveyed that he knew and that he understood.
Stopping suddenly, he pulled her in his arms. With one arm tightly wrapped around her waist and the other hand burying itself deep in her hair, Arnav slammed his lips against hers…kissing her with one week worth of pent up passion and yearning.
With every single intimate memory of their lovemaking rushing back to her, Khushi rested one hand on each shoulder and kissed him back with matching passion.
After a while, Arnav reluctantly raised his head and said in a breathless voice, “Wait here. Don’t move. I’ll be right back”.
Khushi was too preoccupied to guess Arnav’s intention and when he walked out with two dozen red roses tucked under his left arm, she gasped inaudibly.
“That’s not what I meant…”, she protested with her cheeks warming, when Arnav handed her the flowers with his eyes glimmering with the soul of a smile.
After her protests were effectively stemmed by a sound kiss on the mouth and replaced by a smile that refused to die. Walking again, they turned around a corner and headed towards Arnav’s apartment complex, now within eyesight.
Khushi slipped her free hand in his, firmly weaving her fingers with his…
Darkness was beginning to fall as they approached the parking structure where Khushi’s car was parked.
Frozen notes of a song carried by a fluttering breeze , twinkling lights going on one by one, the fragrance of fresh-cut roses and the first flurries of snow floating aimlessly from the skies.
A beautiful memory that became etched in Khushi’s heart forever.
Three goodbyes and several kisses later, Arnav and Khushi still stood beside Khushi’s parked Mazda Miatta, still entwined in each others arms, still unable to part.
Pressing his splayed hand against the small of her back, Arnav pressed her even closer even as his mouth continued to devour her mouth, unable to get enough of her. While Khushi stood on her tiptoes, her arms wrapped around his body, her back pressed against car’s body, returning his passion in equal measure.
Summoning every shred of his willpower, he finally managed to disengage his lips from hers and swore in angry frustration..
“Khushi, if you don’t sit inside your car right now, I swear I’m going to carry you off to my apartment…rip every damn piece of clothing off of you and…well, you know the rest. This is insane”.
Disengaging her arms, he opened the car door, and gently pushed her inside. Waiting for her to settle in her seat, he shut the door with an air of finality.
“Drive carefully and call me when you reach home”, he said grimly, before turning and heading towards the elevator, not trusting himself to stay another word.
Pressing her foot onto the brake, she turned the ignition key and even as her car burst into thrumming life, Khushi struggled to ward off an avalanche of emotions.
Waiting for the elevator, Arnav leaned against an elegantly papered wall, skimming through his emails when an apologetic sounding cough made him look up in surprise.
“What the heck.
“I’m back”, she said, nervously tucking a stray strand of hair beneath her ear.
“I can see that”, Arnav replied dryly and crossed his arms, “My vision is 20/20 with glasses”.
“I…”, began Khushi again with her cheeks burning, suddenly unsure of herself.
With his eyes suddenly intent, he pulled her close.
“I want to come to your apartment. I don’t want to leave just yet”, she said finally, meeting his gaze with Arnav catching his breath as the import of her intent became clear to him.
“Are you sure, sweetheart?, his voice was gentle, “I don’t want you to get hurt. For all you know, you could be playing with fire”.
Standing on her tiptoes, she threw her arms around his neck and murmured against his collar, “Burn me”.
His body stiffened for a second before the excitement of anticipation made hot flames of desire to shoot through his veins. “Khushi”, he whispered, hugging her closer, feeling her heart pounding away right next to his.
In silence they waited for the elevator’s arrival, the air around them crackling with musk, lilac and unbearable tension while his hand stroked her back in slow, sensual, up and down movements.
“Where the hell is that damned elevator?, Arnav murmured after a few frustrating seconds before freeing himself from her almost stranglehold and storming up to it. As if on cue, the steel doors slid open and Arnav nudged Khushi in the already crowded elevator with a hand at the small of her back.