Khushi just couldn’t stop crying and after kissing her tenderly on the lips, Arnav raised his head to look at her. Tears streamed down her cheeks and even as he watched she bit her lower lip in dismay to quell their embarrassingly child like wobbling.
“Then why are you crying, Khushi?, Arnav asked with a mixture of concern and amusement, wiping some of her tears with his bare hand, “Is loving me such a bad thing?, his eyes glinted at her.
Khushi’s head felt woozy and completely devoid of thoughts. Having missed breakfast in her rush to get out of the house, her blood sugars were dipping and she hadn’t spared it a single thought since morning.
“Yes”, she said confusedly, “I mean no. Oh…stop talking and just hug me”.
With a laugh, he hugged her close, murmuring against her neck, “You’re pulling an Arnav on me now”.
Khushi continued crying against his bare chest and instinctively recognizing her need for comfort, Arnav drew her close. Alternately murmuring endearments, stroking her hair and rubbing her back, he soothed her with a gentleness that warmed every single fibre of her being. Nurturing came easily to him, she thought in between sobs. A bittersweet observation that made her recall the feel of those tiny fingers in her dream.
Khushi’s heart wrenched as it suddenly missed Aarav on Arnav’s behalf. Fresh tears welled with the realization of the cross Arnav will need to carry for the rest of his life. She sucked her breath at the unfairness of it all. At the unfairness of life in general.
Her crying subsided but Arnav continued holding her tight, resting his head against hers, listening to the hum of the air conditioner, the ticking of the clock and their own breaths.
“Khushi?, he said after a while noting something odd in the way her body leaned against his, “Are you okay?
As he relaxed his hold, he felt her sliding down and with a much panicked expletive, he caught her. With his eyes swirling with concern, he shifted his position and snaked an arm beneath her thighs to effortlessly lift her up. Her lehenga fanned under her and her dupatta slid down into a colorful heap on the carpet.
He looked down at her fluttering eyelids and much to his relief, she wrapped her arms around his neck for balance. She murmured something incoherent while Arnav carried her to the dark wood queen bed in the centre of the room.
Carefully laying her down upon the snow-white comforter, he sat down next to her. “What have you been doing to yourself?, he asked grimly meeting her dazed eyes. Picking a wrist up, he first checked her pulse and then her clammy forehead. The diagnosis was a no brainer for him.
“When was the last time you ate something?, he chided getting up to fetch her juice from the mini fridge, “You shouldn’t take your blood sugars lightly, Khushi. Hypoglycemia episodes can be dangerous”.
Propping her up in bed with one arm, he held the glass to her lips, his eyes softening as she drank it like an obedient child.
Laying her back on the bed, he gazed down at her, his eyes a canvas of sublime emotions as he wiped her face and nose gently but thoroughly with a tissue. Even as color returned to her cheeks, he turned around and took her stilettos off one by one, an eyebrow arching eloquently at their gravity defying height.
“Feeling better?, he asked after a while, tucking a soft strand of hair beneath an ear.
Khushi nodded in response and lifted a hand to cup his cheek. He watched as she struggled with emotions again, her convulsively heaving chest giving a fair indication of the tumult within.
Arnav’s eyes were concerned as he tried to decipher the upheaval in her eyes.
“What’s wrong, Khushi?, he asked, “You’re worrying me now”.
“Nothing’s wrong”, she said in a gruff voice, her teary smile a beautiful sight to his eyes, “Everything’s alright”.
With a laugh, Arnav bent and pressed a lingering kiss to her lips. His voice was thick with emotion as he repeated, “Yes, everything’s right”.
His face was close to her and she cupped it lovingly with both hands. Tears spilled as she met the swirling caramel pools and said, “I want to hold you, Arnav”.
Taking in a deep shuddering breath, Arnav bent and hugged her, his face against her neck, her arms wrapped around him.
“Not like this”, she complained after a while, combing her fingers through the short hair at the nape of his neck, “I want to hold you properly”.
Arnav lifted his head and grinned through the moist sheen in his eyes. “Very hard to please, aren’t you?
But he got off the bed to take his shoes off, his smile wavering at the way she stretched her arms for him in all earnestness. For reasons unknown he was infinitely touched by this childlike gesture.
In the blink of an eye, he was firmly ensconced in her arms, his head resting against her soft bosom, his body half stretched over hers. Fitted together perfectly like pieces of a puzzle, like yin and yang, like life and hope.
Their bodies inhaled in unison before relaxing with a relief that released months of pent up tension and tears.
Minutes ticked away as the skies became overcast again and suffused their lamp lit room with the surreal glow of the sun filtering through clouds. The first raindrops splattered against the glass window in a calming rhythm.
Even as Khushi felt some telltale wetness against the slope of her breasts, she weaved her fingers through his hair and stated simply and slowly the scene that wouldn’t stop replaying in her mind.
“Underneath all your anger was misery. Just plain misery…It was quite simple actually. You thought I was having second thoughts, that I wasn’t sure about us. And in anger and in hurt, you began to think I’d be better off without you. And when we met at the bar you attempted to sever what holds us together to set me free. You tried cutting off these invisible ties that hold us together”, Khushi’s voice choked and trailed off in a sob.
“But you failed…you failed miserably, didn’t you?, she said in between sobs even as Arnav rained kisses, regret and comfort all over her wet face.
“I’m glad I did, Khushi”, was all Arnav could say with the tumult in his eyes being more accurate representation of his heart..
“And…I know…I know that you were crying in the bathroom when I called”, she continued with her breath rasping, “That’s why you’d turned the shower on”
Arnav’s gaze wavered for a second and Khushi hugged him close. She didn’t need a confirmation from Arnav and he didn’t provide her with one. His silence said it all.
But silence had never appealed to Khushi. She needed to talk. She needed to let all caged words, that strained against the confines of her heart, out. And even as she did, her voice encompassed and soothed him like tender caresses.
“And that day at the park…You wanted me to stop you…I’m sorry…”, she paused with a catch in her voice.
Raising his head, he interrupted her, “Shh…You don’t need to say sorry for any single thing”, he said gruffly, caressing her cheek with the back of his fingers.
“I do”, she said swallowing the ache rebuilding in her throat, “You needed me…but I failed to realize the intensity, the urgency, of your need. I..I let you down”.
Arnav shook his head and bent to press a kiss on her lips, “No, sweetheart, it was I who let you down. I was so goddamned myopic in my need for you that I failed to see what you were going through. I failed to see the extent of havoc my messed up life was causing in your life”.
“It’s understandable”, Khushi said in a voice thrumming with unfathomable emotion, “Considering what you’ve been going through for the past eighteen months your need to have me by your side was perfectly legitimate. I, of all people, should have understood”.
Deeply moved by her words, Arnav sighed resting his forehead against hers for a while, “Khushi..You are too kind to me. One can’t use a loved one as a crutch to navigate through life. That can’t possibly make for a healthy relationship. All the strength one needs has to come from within. I realized that later”.
“What’s the use of being loved?, Khushi countered, cupping his face with tender hands,”If you can’t ever be weak in front of them. Even the strongest of persons can’t be strong all the time. It’s not human”.
They exchanged moist smiles and after a moment his eyes flickered in concentration. Resting his weight on one elbow, he toyed with her hair with his free hand while his mind fumbled for words to formulate what he knew he needed to say next.
“And Khushi, apart from all the hurt I’ve caused you, I’m also sorry for failing to understand you, your dilemma, your guilt. And specially for failing to shelter you from all that unpleasantness…”, he said with a grimace, “I had no business exposing you to all that nastiness and for that I’m really really sor… “.
“No sorries”, Khushi interrupted him with a wavering smile, “As cheesy as it may sound, I’m still going to go ahead and say this – Love means never having to say you’re sorry”.
“Hmm”, Arnav replied with a chuckle, “Not really sure if I want to believe in that but let’s save that debate for later”.
“But seriously, Arnav”, Khushi said, her eyes gleaming with earnestness, “There was no way either of us could have predicted the…turn of events…and our reactions might’ve been different but it affected both of us equally. In hindsight things always seem clearer and simpler”.
Even as Arnav assented to the undeniable truth in her observation, a thought struck Khushi,
“When did you read my email?
“After Madison left”, he said, a spasm of emotion across his features expressing what they’d meant to him in the darkest morning of his life, “Thank you”, his Adam’s Apple bobbed up and down, “Thank you for not giving up on me”.
“And”, he added after a pause, the wet sheen in his eyes at odds with his small smile, “And as cheesy as it may sound, I’m still going to go ahead and say this – that I didn’t know what love was until I met you”.
Khushi’s eyes welled with tears as she realized that Arnav was answering questions she’d promised herself to never ask again.
His eyes softened and with his thumb, he wiped a tear that spilled over the edge, “Yes, there were times, a few times, when I came across emotions like affection…loyalty, responsibility. And yes, there were times when I mistook these emotions for love. You see, I just didn’t know what love felt like at that time. And even those emotions didn’t last”, he paused as his eyes firmly grasped hers to convey the significance of the words to follow, “My heart…was a clean slate when I allowed it to love you. It was a clean state when I allowed your love to enter it”.
A deeply moved Khushi dragged him down closer while her bosom expanded with a million rainbow bubbles, “Oh God, I love him so much”, she communed silently with the divine forces, “I love this man so much that it’s not even healthy I’m sure”.
“Now no more crying, Khushi”, his muffled voice warned her causing her lips to widen into an amused smile. There was obviously a limit to the amount of tears a man could take in a day.
With his soft hair tickling her chin, she held him close, drinking in his quintessential scent and savoring the comfort of his weight. Her hands snaked under his shirt to caress his back and shoulders. She felt the hardness of his contoured muscles, tracing them with her palms, loving the way they clenched under her touch. Slowly she felt herself getting aroused, her core throbbing, her peaks aching, and wanting more.
Arnav raised his head and met her eyes, the naked desire in his eyes appearing incredibly sexy to Khushi.
“I missed you, baby”, he said in a husky voice that sent her heartbeats completely awry.
His eyes gravitated towards her bottom lip that he’d always found irresistible. Leaning in, he nipped it hard and followed it with a swipe of his tongue to soothe it with. Desire whooshed through his veins like a raging inferno. His eyes skimmed over full breasts straining against satin blouse before lingering over the wide expanse of bare waist. It’s already enticing curvature was accentuated by her low slung lehenga and…that waist chain again.
Resting on one elbow again, he ran his palm over her skin, his movements leisurely and greatly arousing. Tracing the dip of her waist. Caressing the flatness of her belly. Circling her trim little navel. Her skin fel like whipped silk under his rough palms. Dipping an index finger under the waist chain, he tugged hard, smiling naughtily at her soft gasp. “You little vixen”, he said slowly, “You know what this thing does to me and that’s why you’ve been deliberately waving it under my nose for the past two days”.
He smiled amusedly as she colored, an extremely becoming rose hue flitting across her face and neck. “I like wearing it”, she protested, “It’s my favorite piece of jewelry”.
Arnav slid down to nuzzle hard against her sensitive skin while his fingers traced the links of the chain in a slow search for it’s clasp. A million butterflies fluttered in her stomach to toe curling effect. Even as she instinctively arched in sweet agony, he persisted with his passionate ministrations, kissing along the waist line of the lehenga, leaving a track of love bites behind.
After a while, he poised himself a little above her and met her gaze. His caramel looked spiked with vodka as he said, “You are absolutely edible, you know that?
With a smile, Khushi cupped his neck on either side to roughly tug him down. It was an implicit agreement to be absolutely ravished.
Passion spiraled into a roaring mushroom cloud as they kissed with a hunger that seemed doomed to always remain a little insatiable.
Coming up for breath, Arnav nuzzled against her ear and side of neck before placing and arm beneath her back and raising her upper torso up a bit.
With his free hand, he pushed her neckline down and bent to drop a moist, open mouthed kiss on the upper slope of a breast. His kiss culminated into a bite and even as Khushi winced, his fingers fumbled unsuccessfully to find the hooks at the back.
Cupping and kneading her full mounds, he tugged impatiently at the pink satin barrier before stilling and looking at her with puzzled eyes.
“How did you put this thing on, Khushi?
Finding the bafflement in his eyes both endearing and comical, Khushi giggled a little.
“Figure it out yourself”, she said with a naughty gleam in her hazel eyes, “Don’t tell me that a Harvard educated doctor can’t figure out the mechanics of a woman’s blouse”.
After a few more seconds of increasingly impatient investigation, Arnav tugged at it again and said in a threatening voice, “You know how they say, desperate situations call for desperate measures”.
“You wouldn’t dare”, Khushi’s hazel eyes flashed in outrage causing Arnav to backtrack hastily.
“I was joking, of course”.
Khushi smiled and raised her arms over her head to gesture toward the zippers on the sides.
For a moment they just grinned at each other, both a bit dazzled by this sunshine that had burst over them after months of fog and darkness.
Then observing the way her arms rested above her head, pure devilry suffused his eyes. Easily catching hold of both wrists in one hand, he arched an eyebrow in a proposition.
Before Khushi could respond, her phone broke into the sentimental piano music that was her ringtone and startled them out from their little personal oasis.
Anita stood near the entrance of the festively decorated banquet hall with her phone stuck between ear and shoulder. With her free hands, she agitatedly tried to smooth down the pleats of her turquoise colored sari.
“Di”, she whined as soon as Khushi picked her phone, “Where are you? You promised you’ll help me with these nine yards of slippery silk nuisance. That was the only reason I decided to wear a sari, remember?
“I don’t know where Madhu Bua is. And Maasi is so busy that I don’t want to bother her”, Anita said in a panicked voice.
“If you don’t come”, she threatened, “I’ll take it off and walk around in my blouse and petticoat. It’s going to fall off soon anyway”.
“Yes, yes, yes. I have a million safety pins ready in my purse”.
With all attention focused on Khushi’s instructions, she didn’t notice a person approach her from behind. A familiar voice made her heart jolt and she turned around with an unladylike haste. She thanked her stars for not tripping over the overlong pleats as she did so.
It was Aman of course and although she’d been mentally preparing herself for this inevitable meeting, she couldn’t help an annoying blush from spreading on her cheeks. It made her steaming mad inside.
“Hi”, she replied to his greeting in a carefully casual voice, trying not to notice how nice he looked in ethnic wear.
The easy camaraderie between them was all but gone and replaced by an undefined tension. Memories from that eventful night was evident in the forced steel in Anita’s eyes and the deep regret in Aman’s.
This was the first time they’d come face to face or even talked after that watershed night of their relationship. The only interaction they’d had since Anita’s birthday was a stilted, awkward exchange of texts that hadn’t taken long to peter into nothingness.
“How are you?, Aman asked after a few seconds, his eyes guiltily surveying her face with assessing eyes.
“Me?, Anita’s voice was flippant, “I’m fine. I’m great”.
They just stood awkwardly for a while uneasily observing the constant stream of guests entering the hall. Then Anita pursed her lips and murmured, “I have to go. I’m sure I’ll see you around”.
Seeing Anita walk away spurred Aman into action.
“Wait, Anita”, he said and swallowed, “Can we talk?
“About what? Anita stopped and asked in a saccharine sweet voice.
“You are not going to make it easy for me, are you?
“I don’t know what you’re talking about”.
Aman sighed, his brown eyes flickering with his inner conflict, “I just want to apologize to you. Beg for your forgiveness if I have to. I had no business doing..”.
“Aman”, Anita interrupted him, her cheeks flaming, her pixie eyes spitting fire, “It’s okay. It’s not a big deal. It’s was just a kiss. One freaking kiss”.
Quickly looking around, Aman’s eyes fixated on a couple of precocious looking kids who seemed to be taking an unhealthy interest in their conversation. Clearing his throat, he said,”Anu, let’s go somewhere a little more private to continue our conversation”.
After hesitating for a moment, Anita relented and followed him across the marble tiled lobby to a quiet, well lit corridor.
Leaning her back against the wall, she looked up at Aman, who crossed his arms nervously and said, “Yes, so where were we?
“That it was just a kiss. No freaking big deal”, Anita said in a flat voice while her heart squeezed painfully.
As Aman looked at a loss for words, Anita allowed her tongue to waggle even more recklessly than usual. “It isn’t as if I’ve never been kissed before or won’t be kissed again in the future. I really don’t see why you have a make a big deal out of it’
Aman stared at her with bemused eye before quickly bowing his head to hide an amused smile.Watching him, Anita’s anger suddenly shot up to dizzying heights.
“Anyway I have to go now”, she said in a stilted voice, “I have to find Khushi Di and Arnav Bhai”.
“They are back together”, she added deliberately watching Aman’s expression as she did so, “And very happy too, touchwood”.
A dark shadow crossed Aman’s eyes and Anita suddenly felt sick to her stomach. As she turned and walked away, warm tears stung the back of her eyelids. That was a low blow, she realized with a guilt pang, he didn’t deserve that. Not even after the way he’d broken her heart by his thoughtless behavior.
After finishing brushing her naturally straight chestnut hair, Khushi put the brush back in her handbag and applied a touch of lipgloss on her swollen lips. She smiled as Arnav, wearing a dark gray coat over an open collared white shirt, came behind her, her dupatta in hand. After carefully draping it on her shoulders, he wrapped her tightly in his arms. Khushi gazed at their reflection and smiled as she met his eyes in the mirror.
He gathered her hair on one side and slowly kissed up the side of her neck.
“We should go now, Arnav”, Khushi said even as her entire body was covered in goosebumps, “Anita must be waiting for me”.
Arnav nipped an earlobe longingly before raising his head in agreement with what he personally considered a torture of the highest order.
Soon they were crossing the marble floored lobby of Hotel Edelweiss towards the banquet hall. As they approached it together, they were greeted by romantic music, fragrance of rose and jasmine and sounds of laughter and conversation.
Entering side by side, they poised at the flower canopied entrance for a moment. The hall was already full and many heads turned towards them. They always made a beautiful couple but today they were specially cocooned in a hard to miss aura of pure love and bliss.
Khushi’s eyes swept across the large hall. Her family stood at a short distance from them, directly in her line of vision.
Arnav glanced sideways at her, his eyes questioning, his lips slightly curved in a smile.
“Shall we go?, he asked gently.
Arnav watched as Khushi nodded slightly before reaching for his hand and tightly interweaving it with hers.
“Yes, let’s go”, she smiled at him, her hazel eyes gleaming with love, pride and a touch of defiance..