Khushi woke up just after dawn; registering her racing heart, her fogged mind struggled to recall a dream she knew she’d been having but was unable to in a way that’s unmatchably frustrating. As she stretched her limbs, she wasn’t surprised anymore to wake without a stitch, like she used to be in the earliest days of their marriage. It was one of those little details of life amidst other more pertinent ones of course, she thought with a smile, that marriage teaches you to take in stride. Being used as a cross between a life-sized teddy bear and a body pillow was another.
There she was, firmly ensconced in him, a tangle of limbs and breaths, her face pressed against his warm chest, her nose tickled by it’s fine hair. It was one of the most amazing feelings in the world. She attempted freeing herself with a smile just to see his reflexive response which was to tighten his hold on her. With a surge of emotion, she pressed her lips against his skin and kissed him in his sleep. She found it amusing and touching at the same time. It made her instinctively recognize a lingering fear of loss in him…
It was inadvertent that her chain of thoughts meandered toward the reason behind her racing heart, anxiety and unremembered dream. It was his first surgery day since taking over last week as the Program Director of The West Palm Beach Cleveland Clinic- Ophthalmology Department. And while all day yesterday, which was a Sunday, he’d been quick to reassure and laugh off her poorly disguised worry, Khushi herself had been unable to relax. And it was kind of funny that the day had ended with him trying to raise her spirits up instead.
With both tired of eating out and he having recalled her earlier craving for a simple homemade Indian meal, he had come to the rather optimistic decision to indulge her with one.
With her told to watch TV and not budge from their bedroom couch until instructed to, he frowned inspecting the recently stocked pantry of their wonderful and as yet unused kitchen. It was a warm, welcoming space contiguous with the living and dining areas and fitted with espresso cabinets, steel appliances and sand granite countertops.This open layout was one of the features they loved about this modern, two bedroom apartment they’d moved into two weeks ago.The floor to ceiling living room window with a brilliant waterfront view was another.
Much deliberation and a Google search later, he placed two clear plastic canisters, one filled with rice and the other with orange lentil, next to the stove on the island.
“Honey, are you sure you don’t need any help?, Khushi’s voice wafted out from inside their bedroom.
“Of course, I’m sure”, he shouted back with an inward eye roll, “Just relax and watch your movie, Khushi. You deserve this after last week”.
His eyes instinctively swept across their home as he spoke, flickering with appreciation at what he saw. Light beige couch, espresso and glass tables and warm amber accents in the living room and horizontal slat-back chairs, glass top table and a small sideboard in the dining nook.While he’d been busy all of last week easing into his new job, Khushi hadn’t sat idle either, making their home on one hand, and job searching on the other.
“Fine”, she said, in no need of any further persuasion as she put her feet up, literally and figuratively, “Tell me when you’re done”.
“Get ready to be blown away”, said Arnav with a grin as he turned the stove on, pulling out two small pots from a drawer under the stove.
Things were progressing satisfactorily thirty minutes later with the contents of both pots looking and smelling like they were supposed to until he decided to check on Khushi, whom, if he could help it, he was unable to stay away from for long anyway.
Lowering the flames of both burners and he strode to their bedroom, stopping in his tracks at the doorway itself. He sighed. He knew he was too old to behave like a lovelorn teen but there was just something, something he still didn’t fully understand and doubted if he ever would, about this girl…
And it was not just the way she sat on the couch in just his T-shirt, one of the many regularly appropriated without permission from his closet, her face serious as she painted her toenails. Or the way her freshly washed hair framed her face untidily. There was something else…something more…
As she sensed his eyes and looked up quizzically, Arnav said with mock-seriousness, “Oh come on, Khushi, that’s a new shirt. I just got it last week”.
“It’s material is so soft and comfortable”, she replied inadequately, her eyes blinking with the slightest trace of guilt.
With his head buzzing with the sudden high of desire, he reached her in a few steps, swooping her up in his arms, nail polish bottle and all.
Ignoring her laughing concerns about her still wet nail polish, he lowered her on their bed, his heart swelling as she opened her arms to welcome him, their smiling lips melding with each other in part tenderness, part passion.
“Now I’m sure you’ll want your shirt back”, she said breathlessly as their lips disengaged, her eyes still gleaming with laughter.
“Of course”, he replied suavely pushing it up, one hand gliding up a leg possessively, his evening stubble caressing her exquisite waist and stomach, his mouth’s expert ministrations driving her crazy like they always did.
It was after a short while when things were expectedly intensifying and Arnav’s index finger hooked onto a piece of black lace that they both smelled it.
With a loud expletive, he got off of her and even as he rushed toward the kitchen, Khushi laughed quietly for a second before following him with a ‘concerned wife’ expression.
With the smoke detector’s loud alarm resonating in their apartment, Arnav placed the pots in the sink, turning the faucet and the overhead fan on while Khushi opened their front door to let the smoke out.
With her chest tightening from smoke, she decided to stay outside and her neighbor, who looked and behaved like a Young Adult Dystopian Fiction adult character, looked on disinterestedly, a cigarette lodged between her fingers, responding to her hi with a nod and a tepid smile.
“Khushi, you can come in now”, Arnav called from inside, “I opened the windows. Its better”.
Her neighbor laughed bitterly, startling her. “They always do that”, she said, “Just to get out of cooking”.
Khushi chuckled, not knowing what else to do, her lips widening as she stepped inside the foyer to see Arnav’s eye-roll at their neighbor’s comment.
“The witch”, he laughed as the door closed behind them and they walked into the kitchen to take stock of the damage incurred.
Something about his face as he eyed the pots again made her want to laugh out loud and hug him at the same time. She did the latter while burying her face into his bare chest to stem the first.
“It’s ok”, she said in a muffled voice, “Accidents happen and I’m sure you can do better than that. Why don’t we order pizza instead?
Even as Arnav sighed, Khushi inhaled a lungful of him, running her hands down his toned back, her nails tracing delicate patterns on his hard curves, his muscles clenching under her fingertips.
“And while we wait…?”, she murmured, nuzzling against the sprinkling of fine hair on his chest, her lips branding his sensitized skin with a trail of moist kisses.
Arnav’s wholehearted approval of the idea was apparent by the eagerness with which she was caught by the waist and hoisted onto the island, all culinary disasters and thoughts of tomorrow forgotten as he edged closer, cupped her neck, and leaned in to take her red, swollen lips.
In the aftermath of lovemaking, they also discovered that pizza, red wine and twilight on a waterfront balcony made for one of most memorable meals in the world.
With sun rising higher in the horizon, a ray escaped through a crack between blind slats and his phone alarm went off at the same time, causing him to stir in his sleep and stretch and her to return to present with doubled anxiety.
“I’ll be fine”, he said sleepily, somehow reading her mind, his fingers gently untangling her tresses.
And as he went through the morning routine with his usual and customary unruffled demeanor, he would have almost succeeded in fooling her had it not been for Khushi’s knowledge of a certain prescription medicine she’d found in one of his drawers.
She didn’t say anything however, just fussed around him with pancakes and juice and coffee until Arnav pulled her on his lap and soundly kissed her, his lips sweetened with syrup.
“Stop worrying”, he said, raising his head, his eyes warm with amusement and something else, “And stop spoiling me like this”.
In response to both, she only sighed and said, “Text me as soon as you come out of the OR, okay?
It seemed she was not the only one concerned about Arnav as the entire morning was taken up by phone calls…Ma’s, her parents’ and then Anita’s with the last conversation expectedly being the longest.
“I agree. For all the bad rap that English majors get, I think it’s a good choice for someone who’s still undecided because it keeps several career options open. So yeah, stay focused, don’t waste time second guessing yourself”.
“Exactly”, said Anita, “That was the main reasoning behind my decision. I can still become an astronaut if I want to”, she added with a laugh, “Just like Sally Ride. She was an English Major too”.
Khushi laughed as a childhood memory involving their backyard, a cardboard box, an entire roll of aluminum foil and an entire morning spent in time out came to the forefront of her mind.
“Why are you laughing, Di?, she said with her eyes twinkling, “Astronauts are normal people too just like you and me”.
She paused as a memory lit up, like a self-inflammatory candle, in a little corner of her heart, “Dreaming to become one is nowhere as improbable as say…waiting for a letter from Hogwarts”.
After Khushi laughingly assured Anita that she was only laughing because she was, and Anita, in turn, equally laughingly assured she was just kidding, they hung up but before Khushi could place her phone on the table, Arnav’s text popped up, informing with customary economy of words that all was well. It made her knees weak with relief and she sank into the couch with a grateful heart and a reflexive prayer of thanks.
While Khushi sent a heart, several hearts actually because she did have a tendency to overdo things sometimes, to Arnav, Anita stared at the phone screen, hesitating for a moment, her finger hovering over the Facebook app before going for the power button.
Somewhere In Central Florida.
The sun winked through gaps in a canopy of trees as an impatient group of horses and their equally impatient riders couldn’t wait to set off on a long trail meandering through varied coexisting ecosystems of Central Florida.Their eyes were fixed on their guide, a dark copper haired young man in dark jeans, blue reflective sunglasses and a black polo shirt with a small logo of Sunset River Equestrian Trail over right upper chest.
Astride a chestnut thoroughbred stallion that jerked his head up and down and impatiently stomped his hooves, he took his own sweet time in introducing himself, answering friendly questions about himself and going over the basic safety protocol.
“……And like every struggling singer/ songwriter knows no matter how good you are you need two things to make it in the music industry these days. Money and luck. Record labels want to know you’re a proven artist, with a few songs under your belt and a decent fanbase, before they even consider signing you. And to make that possible not only you need production and promotion money but also to finish college debt free because it’s always smart to have a backup career in mind”, he finished before making soothing noises at his increasingly antsy horse and moving on to the next topic.
“Now here’s what you can expect on this trail. Sandhills with long leafed pine forests, oak hammocks, a couple of creeks, getting wet- our horses like playing in water- and stopping at predetermined spots to talk about local flora, fauna or pretty much anything you guys want to talk about…and lastly, our piece de resistance…riding on the lake edge at sunset. This will be followed by a cookout in the woods and then we’ll head back to where we started. A word of warning before we set off, stay with the group, don’t try anything you’re not comfortable with- this is not the place for that- and hold on to both reins at all times. I seriously hate chasing after runaway horses or worse, playing tug of war with the gators in the lake”.
As the group froze together as a single entity, he laughed, a pleasant sound that was at once infectious and wicked, “Just kidding. There are no gators in our lake but you know what I mean”.
With that, he maneuvered his reins to make a 180 degrees turn, the muscles in his back twisting and flexing, a Celtic tattoo barely peeking from below his right sleeve.
Arnav returned home to the warm scent of saffron and soft candle light. The lights were dimmed and two long tapers in crystal holders flickered on the table. For a moment, Arnav was confused, wondering with a hollow feeling in his heart if he’d forgotten an important date. He was terrible about remembering dates, had always been no matter how hard he tried. And in the past…it would often lead to…
With a mental shake, he stepped into the kitchen to find Khushi carefully stirring the contents of a pot.
“Wow…biryani”, he said, his stomach growling with hunger even as he hugged Khushi, all dressed up in a red sari, from behind, “What are we celebrating?
Turning around within his arms, she faced him, her eyes spilling with all the love her heart could hold, “Nothing…Everything”.
Thank you so much for your wonderful feedback on Chapter 2 🙂 Here is Chapter 3. Hope you enjoy it. Looking forward to your thoughts with bated breath, it will mean a lot to me as always 🙂 Will try to post next chapter in 10-15 days.