61: Unconditional.

 

As they embraced, Khushi couldn’t stop herself from saying softly, “Some things are not meant to be, Anu, because what lies ahead is better”.

Anita just nodded in response and took a few seconds to compose herself.

After a while, she turned toward Arnav.

When did this person become a brother she’d always wanted growing up, she wondered in a rare maudlin state of heart.

Touched by what he saw in her eyes, Arnav pulled her in a hug, ruffling her hair and saying humorously, “These airport goodbyes just mess with your brain, don’t they?

After a second’s hesitation, he added, “And I second what Khushi just said”.

As Anita stiffened in surprise at what she presumed was Khushi having shared her secret with Arnav, he added with an understanding smile, “No, Khushi didn’t tell me anything. I’m just speaking in general. And I know you’ll do just fine”.

Anita just smiled in thanks, blinking once or twice to ward away tears. She decided to turn and leave before the tenuous threads straining around her composure snapped. Without another backward glance, she showed her passport and boarding pass at the entrance before gliding in through the sliding doors.

More than an hour later, after having successfully gone through baggage check in and security, she sat on a plastic seat near her flight’s boarding gate, trying to ward off despondency with chocolate and music.

After a while she snatched her earplugs out and rose with an impatient movement. She decided to get something to eat before boarding the flight.

Moments later, sitting in a small cafeteria with a sandwich and a cappuccino, she gazed out at the milling, hurrying humanity and sighed. Seeing some couples walking hand in hand made her painfully aware of her own foolish dreams that now lay shattered in a forbidden corner of her heart.

Memories floated in unasked…undaunted by their unwelcome or censure.

They seemed to be from a million years ago.

What?! You’re not a belieber anymore?, the memory of his teasing voice, warm and pleasant as always, warmed her heart before twisting in it painfully like a knife.

She was standing at that bridge in the park again…laughingly admitting to herself her crush on her sister’s almost fiance, and blissfully unaware of the dangers she was exposing her heart to.

We’ll discuss your freshman blues some other day“, his voice spoke close to her ear and she didn’t even realize when a tear escaped and rolled down a cheek.

To make matters worse, Adele crooned in the background with one of her gut wrenching renditions of unrequited or failed love.

 

“Never mind, I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you too
Don’t forget me, I beg
I’ll remember you said,
Sometimes it lasts in love but sometimes it hurts instead”.

 

“Damn you, Adele”, she said to her coffee, blinking her eyes furiously to prevent making a spectacle of herself. She was relieved when a voice announcing the commencement of her flight’s boarding erupted in the background.

By the time she reached her economy class window seat, her head was throbbing and her mind in a distinctively unsociable frame. After chucking her carry-on bag into the overhead compartment and stowing her purse under the seat in front, she stuffed her earplugs back in and closed her eyes. With Khushi canceling her ticket at the last moment, the seat next to her was vacant as expected. Anita was glad because for once she wanted to wallow in misery without having to exchange social niceties with anymore, least of all a stranger.

The plane was about to take off when a young man paused next to her seat, boarding pass in hand. After confirming the seat number, he shrugged an overstuffed backpack off of his shoulders and struggled for a while trying to squeeze it into the overhead compartment.

Slightly disappointed at the prospect of having to share her space, Anita opened her eyes to glance at him. With him still occupied in trying to stow his problematic backpack away, all she could see was a lean, athletic body clad in khaki cargo pants and a slightly ridden up black Linkin Park T Shirt.

A triumphant yes and a loud thump later, a pair of gray eyes and copper hair came into view before their owner slid into his seat with a cheerful hi.

Her reply was polite yet perfunctory and pegging him as American college student- tourist in her mind, she closed her eyes again. Just in case he belonged to the category of co passengers who liked holding long conversations on flights. Of course, under normal circumstances, if she were her normal garrulous self, she would have welcomed it…but not today. Today, she needed the space to sort her thoughts out, to lick her wounds in peace so to speak.

Her neighbor however, showed no further inclination to talk. After settling his rather large frame in the cramped space he busied himself fiddling with the TV screen in front to find watchable movies.

An hour later, their plane was airborne, tranquilly flying several thousand miles above the ground while the passengers partook of a meal served at an unearthly hour. Anita, still full from the sumptuous lunch they’d had quite late in the afternoon, picked at her dinner. She wondered about Arnav and Khushi and what they were doing at that time. A sudden rush of melancholy hit her out of nowhere and biting her lower lip, she dropped her fork and leaned her head back against her seat.

After dinner was over, trays collected and drinks served, flight attendants turned the lights off and the passengers were swamped by a dull, eerie glow from the collective flickering of the TV screens.

Anita turned her face toward the window, gazing at the stars, seeing a face that’d she’d truly believed to be her fate at one time. Her fate…

She started when her neighbor chuckled, his chest vibrating with amusement. She shot him a quick glance. A can of Budweiser in hand, he seemed to be thoroughly enjoying whichever movie he was watching.

With a sigh, she turned her face toward the stars again. She was tempted to indulge in hope but her innate sense of pride tried it’s best to stop her. Some thoughts were able to escape however…lingering fleetingly in the forefront of her mind.

That look in his eyes when he’d taken that step toward her. Just before kissing her. What was it? And how can she even find out without putting her heart, her sanity and her pride at stake again?

She closed her eyes and even as she swallowed a painful lump in her throat, his words wouldn’t leave her alone.

Was it just a momentary madness or did I, somewhere along the way, start feeling…something for you without even realizing? I don’t know. I just don’t know“.

“And I don’t want to know”, she said to herself, steeling her heart yet unable to stifle a sob.

As the sound escaped her mouth, embarrassed, she glanced at her neighbor again. He appeared to have fallen asleep, earplugs still in place, movie still running, empty can resting on the tray in front.

Bending down, Anita unzipped her hand bag to extricate a small package out. Aman’s gift.
Very quietly she unwrapped it, stuffing the plain gold paper into the seat pocket in front.

She opened the box and stared at her gift with her heart racing. It was a charm bracelet with carved silver and ivory beads and a single, oval shaped silver charm with ‘special friend‘ engraved on it. Taking it out from the box, she held it for a while, running her index finger over the engraved words.

Moments later, she was leaning against the window, crying silently against a small airline pillow, feeling oddly relieved as months of pent up emotions were finally allowed a release. She turned from time to time to peer at her neighbor, to make sure he was still asleep.

Luckily, her neighbor had exceedingly sharp reflexes, always managing to close his sleepy gray eyes before she turned and saw them open.

She had soon drifted off to an uneasy slumber, her body slumped against the window uncomfortably. Unbeknownst to her, the bracelet slipped from her lifeless fingers to bounce off of the floor below. And unbeknownst to her, an arm had reached for it, fumbling for a moment in the dark to find it.

Even as a kindly gaze had briefly rested on her, a hand had hesitated before gingerly depositing her bracelet into the seat pocket.

When Anita woke up, the lights on again and the nearby kitchen a flurry of activity in preparation for serving breakfast. They were about an hour from Amsterdam, she noted with relief, rolling her neck to stretch it’s ache away.

Her neighbor seemed to be on movie number two, she noted glancing at his profile. Needing to make the much dreaded visit to a plane restroom, she was about to ask him to get up when he turned and their eyes met.

“Good morning”, he said pleasantly, smiling at her.

“Good Morning”, Anita smiled back at him, briefly scanning his face for any sign that he’d witnessed her embarrassing bawling of last night.

Finding none, she relaxed visibly in relief. “We’re almost there”, she said, inanely stating the fact with a smile. She felt a lot lighter.

“Yup”, her neighbor said lightly, his glance pausing on her swollen eyes for a discreet second, “Just one more hour to go”. He directed his glance back to the TV screen but after a second’s hesitation looked at her again.

“By the way, I’m Arian”, he said, holding out his outstretched hand, “Arian Foster”.

“Anita Gupta”, Anita said, taking his hand.

Few minutes later, as she emerged from the restroom to walk back to her seat, she tried to figure the local time in India and U.S. in her groggy, disoriented head.

“It must be around 10 AM in India and Di and Arnav Bhai must be on the road to Srinagar now”, she mused, missing Khushi and even Arnav with renewed vigor, “And back home, it must be just before before midnight. Wonder what Mom and Dad are doing?.

She was suddenly filled with a longing to be near her parents again. Instinctively understanding what they must be going through in light of Khushi’s decision to accompany Arnav to Srinagar, she realized the unconditional nature of her love for them.

When you love someone, she remembered Khushi saying to her once, they don’t necessarily have to be right to inspire empathy in your heart.

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It was 11:30 PM in Wixom, Ohio and the Gupta house was unnaturally quiet. There was no pitter pat of light steps on the staircase, no sound of TV in the family room, no shouts to turn the volume down, no lectures on cell phone addiction, no tapping of fingers in the library, no arguments, no laughter, no shrieks…nothing.

Navin was in the library. Struggling to work the computer mouse with his left hand, he found himself getting increasingly frustrated with each tick of the wall clock.

He missed his work, he missed working on his book, he missed his little girls, he missed the home his house once was…but most of all he missed Sujata.

Despite the ups and downs in their married life, despite the difference in opinions that never failed to crop up from time to time…Sujata had always been his one and only true friend. It was almost thirty years since they’d left their families behind to build a home in an unknown land…and in the process of building one brick by brick, from scratch almost, they’d always turned towards each other for comfort and solace, tackling whatever curveball life tossed their way as a unified team.

But this time, for the past two months, especially since his illness and Khushi’s move to an apartment, Sujata had completely shut herself out. Not only from Khushi but to a certain extent from him as well.

She took care of him alright, spending sleepless hours watching over him, always remembering to bring him medications, essentially becoming his right hand…, Navin frowned and paused.

Taking his glasses off, he rubbed the inner corner of his eyes, allowing a deluge of emotions to pass through him.

“But she just doesn’t talk to me anymore”.

Since Khushi moved out of their home three months ago, Sujata had not only stopped sharing her concerns and anger with him but also questioning his decisions. What he took to be her inflexibility and insensitivity toward Khushi frustrated and saddened. Interpreting her silence as stubbornness and anger, he would sometimes lash out at her, deliberately hurting her to provoke a response…but to no avail.

Despite his best efforts, he couldn’t get across the walls she’d inadvertently built around herself. Not even last night when he’d broken Khushi’s decision to stay back in India with Arnav.

His hand paused over the mouse as his mind went over last night’s event one more time.

After his phone conversation with Khushi and Arnav, he’d gone upstairs to their room. It was late in the night and Sujata lay awake in bed trying to read a book. Changing his clothes and getting in bed beside her, he’d let her know about Khushi’s call, their subsequent conversation and his advice to them.

“Marry?

Shock had forced Sujata to break her long silence, “Why did you tell them to get married in India?

“I didn’t know what else to say, Suji”, he’d replied, surveying Sujata’s expression with weary eyes and conveying how out of his depth he felt, “I didn’t know how to react. While talking to them one thing became clear to me. Marriage or no marriage, blessings or no blessings, they’d already decided on being together, living together in every sense of the word. And I realized this because I could sense their emotional dependence…their need for each other. It was very strong…very palpable. And oddly reassuring too in a way. Anyhow, I have no idea how long they’re going to be India but I know my heart, a father’s heart, will be at peace if their togetherness becomes legal and official. Not only will it be more in keeping with our…your, mine and Khushi’s…beliefs but also no one should ever be able to…”, his eyes clouded with the unforgettable pain of a father’s failure to protect his child, “Of course we need to know what Arnav’s mother thinks about all of this too”.

He scanned Sujata’s face again. A myriad of emotions were skimming across her face. His heart softened for her pain.

“Khushi, even Arnav, wanted us to be present too. But I told them traveling would be difficult for me as of now”.

Sujata closed her eyes and swallowed to drown the ache in her throat, to come to terms with the unbearable burning in her heart. For unknown reasons, her mind flitted to her own wedding day almost thirty years ago.

It seemed like yesterday…

 

She was in their bungalow in Allahabad again surrounded by the sounds, scents and feelings of a traditional, small town wedding.

With a gut twisting nostalgia, she saw once again that soft sheen in her late mother’s eyes.

Her Ma’s beautiful eyes had emotions condensed on their surface like dewdrops that day. She saw her image in the mirror again, standing by the garlanded door, watching Sumita Didi adjust a maang tika she’d worn for her own wedding on her forehead.
It lay in a vault in a bank now. She’d always looked forward to seeing Khushi wear it on her wedding one day.

“Sujata, talk to me”, Navin had pleaded with her and all she’d said before turning on her side was, “It’s okay Navin. Everything has been already decided.There is nothing left to talk about”.

Pensively gazing at the computer screen, Navin’s mind went over the events of the day next, his hazel eyes dull with the ache of a low moment in life. He was exhausted too, both mentally and physically, with sleep having remained elusive all of last night.

A little after they’d woken up that morning, late by their normal standard, they’d received a call from Astha Raizada, who had no doubt spent a sleepless night too, waiting for an hour civil enough for a phone call.

She’d talked to both Navin and Sujata and expressed her solidarity with their concerns, her agreement with Navin’s advice to them and her total commitment to their daughter’s welfare and happiness.

“And of course”, she’d added to Sujata, unnerved by her quietude and making an attempt to lighten the situation, “When these two come back, we will make them go through a wedding all over again”.

Although Sujata didn’t show it much, Navin knew that Astha’s phone call had helped in easing some of her burdens. Burdens she carried too close to heart, burdens that she herself refused to part with.

A text notification beep from his phone brought him back to present. It was Anita notifying them about her arrival in Amsterdam.

Just landed in Amsterdam. Can’t wait to see you guys at lunch tomorrow. Love you”.

Navin, who had been waiting for her text, decided to go to bed. He’d already received Khushi’s text few hours earlier informing him of their arrival in Jammu and promising to keep them updated, to text again upon reaching Srinagar.

Upon reaching upstairs, he was surprised to see a strip of light under Khushi’s door. Reaching it, he turned the knob with his left hand and pushed it open. Standing at the doorway, he paused. Sujata was sitting on the edge of Khushi’s bed with an open photo album in hand.

Her face was completely engrossed and even as she turned a page, Navin walked up slowly with the aid of a single tipped cane. With his right foot dragging minimally on the floor, he’d soon reached Sujata and taken seat next to her.

With a brief sideways glance to acknowledge his presence, Sujata continued with her perusal of Khushi’s pictures, shifting the album a little toward him in invitation.

Even as the present moment was pinned by the barking of a dog, by the gliding of cars, by the rustling of the leaves in the Bradford Pear tree; the two of them took a walk to days and years flown by…to moments and smiles frozen until posterity in photographs.

Sujata’s hand stilled as they reached a particularly favorite picture and memory. Silently they gazed at it with their eyes tender and their hearts full. A five year old Khushi stared back at them. Huge hazel eyes in a diminutive face and two fingers firmly stuck in mouth. They could almost imagine her taking her fingers out for a high pitched, off key rendition of the latest Bollywood hit.

Memories cajoled their somber faces to crease into smiles.

“Suji, remember how hard it was to get rid of her finger sucking habit”, Navin said.

Sujata nodded before saying gruffly, “It was only when Anita was born…and she was worried what the baby would think of her that she stopped…”.

They were silent for a while and then, just like that, she began to cry. Her shoulders shook, her eyes welled and warm tears rained on the album below.

“Where did I go wrong, Navin? Why did I fail as a mother? Why did I lose my Khushu?, she cried out, her voice raw and broken, her words seeped in desolation.

Moved, Navin took the album from her slightly shaking hands and placed it beside her.

Without a word, he placed his good arm around her shoulders and hugged her close. While there was no doubt in his mind that there were many situations she could have handled and many beliefs she could have expressed, differently, he had never once doubted her intentions, her love for her children or her worries for their future.

He knew she’d truly believed she was acting in Khushi’s best interest by opposing her relationship with Arnav.

He let her cry to her heart’s content. He let her be the girl he’d married thirty years ago and brought seven seas away from her family. He let her be the essence that lay inside the role of a mother. He let her break her self created walls…

To initiate catharsis.

To initiate healing.

Words flew out fast and furious after a long time in captivity. Desolate words soaked in blood and tears. Angry words colored by fire and ice. Right words. Wrong words. Words that were humanly impossible to judge.

And Navin listened to them all, allowing her to get them all out, knowing she needed that more than anything else.

When her sobs showed signs of subsiding, Navin continued holding her close, addressing her concerns one by one, correcting her where he thought she was wrong. With the aid of a decades old love, he gently guided her out of the quagmire she had partially created, quagmire she was tired of being trapped in, quagmire she now willed to get out of.

“Of course, you didn’t lose her, Suji. The bond that was created over a period of twenty eight long years, the bond that ‘you’ created and nourished with your love, sweat and toil can’t be broken so easily”, he said, “She is still your little girl. Time and again, she has tried getting back to you, Suji, but you don’t let her. What if she thinks she has lost you too? What if she thinks you’ve stopped loving her too? She’s hurting too…just as you are and I can see that very clearly. Marrying like this away from everyone is more of a ‘need of the hour’ than a conscious choice with her”.
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“I understand your misgivings about Arnav. I understand he doesn’t quite fit the idea of a suitable match you’ve had in mind for Khushi for so long. And I confess that the circumstances surrounding his previous marriage, the way his divorce panned out, his liberal views on marriage, divorce and relationships were disturbing and off putting to me as well. But, Sujata, the fact remains that our Khushi chose him. She chose him with all his history, with all his baggage, with all his warts”.

Navin held her gaze tight to convey the import of his subsequent words,

“The difference between you and me, in my opinion, lies in the way we dealt with Khushi’s choice. Because to put it simply, that’s what Arnav is- Khushi’s choice. And unlike you, I chose to suppress my misgivings as a parent. I chose to trust her, respect her choice, respect her right to make a choice. It wasn’t easy, not by a long shot, but I guess I read the writing on the wall and realized it was time to realign our relationship a bit”.

“But how can I just let her destroy her life in front of my eyes?, was Sujata’s impassioned reply, “And why should I trust…Arnav…to keep her happy? How can I trust him to keep her happy? I’m a good judge of character and he’s always across as insensitive, arrogant and mocking of every belief, every value we hold true and sacred. How can a person who doesn’t seem to value relationships be trusted to keep our daughter happy?

Navin gazed at Sujata’s eyes. They were filled with genuine concern for Khushi. Despite his impatience at a certain inflexibility in her thinking, he tried to occupy her mind space and see where she was coming from. His heart softened going over her thirty years of motherhood…

Thirty years of selfless giving that no amount of mistakes, human mistakes, could erase.

After a little while, he sighed and said, “Sujata, nothing I say in Arnav’s defense right now will make a difference to your opinion because preconceptions and prejudices are notoriously difficult to erase. So let me just assure you that if you open your heart to him, for Khushi’s sake and my sake, you are going to be pleasantly surprised. His views might be unconventional but he’s a really nice person actually. And there is no doubt in my mind that he loves our Khushi a lot. But don’t take my word for it. Make an attempt to know him better and decide for yourself. Rest, I think, should be left to God. Nothing in life is guaranteed, let alone marriage”.

Sujata was quiet for a while, her dark brown eyes trying to read Navin’s, her mind thirstily lapping up the reassurance Navin offered.

“Let’s just make the best of the ingredients we’ve been handed”, Navin added.

With a long sigh, Sujata rested her head on Navin’s shoulder, his words echoing in her mind.

With the better part of the night spent in recollecting, planning and reconnecting, they went to bed in the wee hours to wake up late to a bright morning. Upon waking up, they’d found Khushi’s text from 5:30 in the morning which informed them of their plans for the evening.

“It’s about 4 PM here in Srinagar. We’ll be leaving soon. Have a 5 PM appointment for the wedding ceremony. I don’t know how long it’ll take but will call you after reaching home because cell phones are not allowed inside the temple complex. I miss you both a lot, Mom and Dad, and I wish…things could’ve been different… Hope you’re able to call me before we leave, your blessings will mean the world to me. And I’m sorry if I ever hurt your feelings…I never meant to. Love always, Khushi”

Sitting on the family room couch, they read the text together, their eyes misted and their hearts overwhelmed with the pain of longing in Khushi’s words.

With a brief glance at the wall clock above the mantle, Navin called her.
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Appropriately dressed in bridal attire once again, Khushi’s face beamed with joy as Astha complimented her extravagantly before showering them both with heartfelt blessings.

“This set had never looked so good on me”, she smiled widely casting an amused look at her son who was unsuccessfully but characteristically trying to keep his utter happiness under wraps.

His expressive eyes, Arjun’s carbon copy, Astha thought wistfully, gave him away as usual. Despite a sober countenance, she noted, happiness leapt out of his eyes in almost tangible shimmers.

Later on, when she hung up the phone, her eyes were moist but her contented heart lighter than it had been for years.

With their faces aglow, Arnav and Khushi sat on an upholstered sofa beside the bedroom fireplace and no sooner had Astha hung up that Khushi’s phone broke into it’s musical ring tone.

“It’s Dad”, whispered Khushi picking it up, her mind paralyzed by a sudden influx of emotions with a fear of rejection, once again, reigning supreme.

“What if Mom still doesn’t talk to me?, she cried, her hazel eyes darkening with turbulence, her fingers shaking slightly.

With excruciating tenderness, Arnav slid an arm around her shoulders to draw her close. Using his free hand, he took the phone from her hennaed hand. Accepting the call, he poised it a little in front of them.

They didn’t realize what a beautiful picture they presented with their heads close together. Khushi in her red sari, bedecked with vermillion and bindi, her eyes wide with anxiety. And Arnav in a white shirt, an arm around her shoulders, his eyes intense with protectiveness.

As the estranged mother and daughter had their first glimpse of each other, words left them altogether. Their eyes met and interchanged a wealth of meaning with bittersweet emotions erupting nonstop from their flickering depths.

“You look very nice”, Sujata said at last with a wavering smile, her eyes welling with the love she’d held back for so long.

“Thank you”, replied Khushi in a raspy voice, her face crumpling with uncontrollable tears of relief. Her mother had returned to her and she didn’t know how to stop crying.

Arnav squeezed her shoulder and drew her close. With his own eyes shining unnaturally, he tried to lighten the situation a little bit.

“Honey, that was a compliment”, he said to Khushi, smiling as she chuckled through her tears and turned to grab a tissue from an end table.

Arnav looked up to meet Sujata’s eyes.

“Namaste Aunty”, he said with a little smile, his eyes conveying his desire to let bygones be bygones and start afresh.

Navin, sitting next to her, sighed visibly as she returned his smile and said, “Khush raho“.

Perhaps her smile could have been wider, perhaps her eyes could have been warmer but it was a step in the right direction none the less and Arnav, for one, found no reason to complain.

They all talked for a few more minutes, ordinary, mundane, inconsequential talk…which succeeded in washing away ocean loads of rancor and paving the path to a new beginning.
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“Happy?, Arnav said after putting their phones away on the table and drawing her on his lap.

Khushi nodded in reply, her face suffused with a radiant glow, their eyes almost level due to height difference. She studied his face intently, admiring the intriguing shadows the flames cast on it, her heart rejoicing at the quiet contentment in his eyes.

“This calls for celebration, doesn’t it?, he said with a smile even as Khushi pushed his hair away from the forehead and imprinted a trail of kisses on his forehead, down his cheek and along the line of his jaw.

Murmuring in assent, she cupped his warm neck before pressing moist kisses down the column of his neck. Taking a bite of his skin between her teeth, she paused naughtily causing Arnav to grin and bend his head back to give her more access.

“Go ahead, love, mark your man. Don’t be shy”.
Chucking, Khushi nipped him, none too gently, and raised her head to meet his eyes.

The look on his eyes caused a thrill of excitement to run down her spine. A million butterflies fluttered in her stomach while a molten desire began swirling in her core.

“I will be right back”, he said huskily, his eyes gleaming with mischief.

Sliding her off of his lap, he rose to leave the room, leaving her aching for his love.
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When Arnav returned with a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon and two flutes, he groaned to see Khushi standing by the window near the fireplace, talking to her aunt in Allahabad.

Placing the bottle and the flutes on the end table, he walked up, tightly wrapping his arms around her from behind. Burying his face in the crook of her neck, he struggled to keep his impatience under check, while Sumita Maasi continued talking, wanting to know every single detail of not only her trip and wedding but also their conversation with parents.

Somewhere along the way, his hands began to wander, caressing her soft belly in insistent circular motions, tracing the curve of her small waist from each side.

Becoming increasingly breathless, Khushi struggled to maintain a normal tone of voice, looking back to mouth an indignant ‘stop’ when she felt his warm breath on her ear and his mouth taking hold of her earlobe.

With a grin he stopped but as soon as she’d hung up, he started undressing her, unbelting her sari and letting it tumble to the ground in a pool of red.

Cupping her breasts straining against the blouse, he pressed her closed, allowing her to feel his hard arousal.

His fingers found her nubs and his thumbs worked on them slowly, arousing them into aching peaks.

“I brought us some champagne”, he whispered huskily after a while, turning her around and taking her hand to lead to a rug in front of the fireplace.

Clad in a blouse and a underskirt, she knelt on the soft rug and soon, Arnav joined her with a smile, a champagne flute in each hand.
Kneeling in front of the blazing fire, they clinked flutes, their smiles merging and their smoldering eyes clashing to send shivers of anticipation down spines.

While Arnav downed his drink in a single swig, Khushi took a series of dainty sips, prompting Arnav to say at the commencement of fourth sip, “Hold it. Don’t swallow”.

With her mouth full of the chilled liquid and her eyes wide with query, she looked at him. His eyes were full of fire and glinting with devilry.
With a grin, he leaned in. Cupping her neck and lifting her chin, he joined their lips, prying her lips open to drink champagne from the deepest recesses of her mouth, sucking earnestly to imbibe the very last drop.

Desire bubbled through their veins like champagne itself as he lowered her on the rug with their lips still joined, their minds reaching a high from the sheer eroticism of the kiss.
After a while, he raised his head to look at her, his breaths ragged, his grin endearingly boyish as he said, “Now that was really something, wasn’t it?

“It wasn’t too bad”, Khushi teased him, shrugging her shoulders with feigned nonchalance.

Arnav raised his eyebrow laughingly, “And just for that, Dr. Gupta, you’re not going to be let off until you scream my name in mercy”.

Faking grim purpose, he undressed her, tossing her clothes away irreverently, making her giggle and her heart flutter at the same time.

“What do you have in mind, dear husband? she asked, running a loving finger down his cheek.
His caramel eyes glinted in the firelight as he grinned mischievously and said, “Well, I’ve heard that champagne tastes best against a woman’s skin”.

Even as Khushi colored furiously, he said softly, “Close your eyes, Khushi”.

Even as she obediently closed her eyes, Arnav pressed a reassuring kiss and a reaffirmation of love against her forehead.

She gasped feeling cold champagne splash against her bare midriff, it’s tiny bubbles crackling against her bare skin, tiny streams running off in all possible directions.

“You were serious”, she shrieked.

“Oh I’m dead serious, dear wife”, he swooped down to drink the bubbly off her skin, licking the streams tricking down her waist, sucking her skin clean of it.

While she arched in unbearable ecstasy, he parted her legs to taste her core. Even as his lips and tongue mercilessly wreaked havoc on the most sensitive parts of her body, she took hold of clumps of her hair, screaming his name for reprieve before shattering into a million beautiful pieces.

She opened her eyes to see Armav looking down at her, lovingly stroking her sweaty forehead.

“Just you wait, Dr. Raizada, just you wait”, she murmured with the light in her eyes merging with his, “I’ll get back at you”.

His lips widened into a grin, “I shall eagerly look forward to it”.

Soon their smiles and breaths were hopelessly entangled and even as the clock ticked on the wall and the night birds circled the skies, their lips came together once again.

 

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11 thoughts on “61: Unconditional.

  1. One of my favourite scenes in your story is in this chapter-When Khushi’s parents get to see them as husband and wife on FaceTime!! You have written it so eloquently…Khushi’s nervousness, Arnav’s protectiveness…it was amazing!

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  2. This is one of the best stories I have ever read. So much tension and emotions are dealt with by the these two amazing people and those around them….you have written such a beautiful story that an absolute joy to read! Many thanks Jennifer

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and I’m so glad you enjoyed this journey ๐Ÿ’– Looking forward to having you along on this journey and hope you like it’s sequel, Silver Sands too ๐Ÿ˜Š

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  3. I am do so glad that khushiโ€™s mum finally took the first step towards acceptence – without that there would have been a tiny sliver of khushiโ€™s heart forever scarred.
    And the celebration of their love- Beautiful.๐Ÿ’ž. sigh.

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  4. Finally Sujata breaks down the walls she built up around everyone including her partner, vonfidant, best friend her husband. It must have been so difficult for her to do thst, but in her place I understand her need to protect her child. I’m glad you didnt mention them before, just let Anrnav and Khushi decide what they wanted before, involving more charachters. Adrian seems nice, but is it a starting of another couple, or just a case of rebound?. I loved that they talked to the closet members of the family and although not forgiven the road is still not clear. For now let them enjoy their life.

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  5. Finally the stubborn mother came out of her shell seeing things in different light. Though being a mother she was furiously protective of her first born but she has to somehow trust her first daughter decision and give a try to at least understand Arnav and she is doing now!

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  6. Aryan foster huh !! ๐Ÿ˜€ I miss that name
    You know before I was kinda hoping aman and anu work it out somehow, but now, judging by the way Aryan handled the situation on the plane, respecting her privacy and acting asleep to allow her the provilige of finally getting that pain off her chest and crying in Peace. I might be changing the person I’m putting my hopes on.
    On the other hand, I’m glad sujata is finally mellowing down and giving arnav a Chance to prove himself, is worthiness and especially that khushi’s choice wasn’t a mistake. Of course knowing arnav he won’t like the idea of having to prove himself to anyone, but we all know he’ll do it nonetheless for khushi’s happiness.
    And speaking of the lovebirds, that was passionate there at the end ๐Ÿ˜‰ .. Se of us are single you know :p
    PS: I really admire how despite the story been about arshi you effortlessly Include details and stories of other characters and couples achieving a perfect balance.
    (( He let her cry to her heartโ€™s content. He let her be the girl heโ€™d married thirty years ago and brought seven seas away from her family. He let her be the essence that lay inside the role of a mother. He let her break her self created wallsโ€ฆ )).. This passage was one of my favorites during this chapter.

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