Chaand Nazar Aaya

Timeframe: Written November 2012; I admit I didn’t have very high expectations for KC on the actual show based on what was happening, which was why I wrote this – just a bit of light fun.. I was however, very pleasantly surprised by what we did get to see in the end! Not sure how this compares but enjoy x 

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Khushi was so hungry she was beginning to think she wouldn’t survive till the moon came out! What if it didn’t come out tonight, she wondered… would she have to starve till the next evening?! Khushi shook her head to clear it of the ridiculous thoughts running through her mind. She was being silly; there wasn’t long left, she had plenty to keep her occupied and she resolutely reminded herself that she was keeping this fast for her husband, whom she loved more than anything.

A husband who had left for work, leaving her starving she thought gloomily, as her tummy gave another mournful growl. No, he hadn’t left her she reminded herself; he had in actual fact escaped after she’d snapped at him a few times over nothing. But she couldn’t help it if hunger made her irritable…

She sighed, looking at the door but there was no sign of him yet either so she finished fixing up the pooja tray in her hand and handed it to HP before checking again for the moon. 

She frowned when it didn’t pop out miraculously from behind a cloud and ignored her stomach as she looked for something to take her mind off it. She spotted the girl who’d been applying mehndi to everyone throughout the day and smiled to herself as she walked over, thinking she might as well since all there was left to do was wait. After choosing a pattern she twisted around to look at the door again, feeling a little disappointed even though she knew he wouldn’t be home for a while yet. 

*** 

Arnav hurried through the front doors, glad to be home and his eyes almost immediately fell on his wife who was sitting in one corner with a girl. Her expression was oddly glum for her and she seemed unaware of the hustle around her. He walked over and stood to one side as he watched her and felt a smile dance around his lips when he saw how her eyes kept alternating between the front door and the open bay windows to her right.

He didn’t know why she’d bothered keeping the fast; he’d tried to get her to eat more than once but in the end he had to admire the fact that apart from a couple of glares and a few longing glances at the food, she hadn’t budged. 

She looked stunning in a shimmering dusky pink saree with her hair falling over one shoulder but she seemed lost as she looked around so Arnav decided to take the opportunity to cause some mischief… and in the process maybe bring her smile back.

As he took a couple of steps towards her though, she suddenly let out a shriek, ‘Yeh aap ne kya kiya?!’ He paused for a second and looked around guiltily, wondering if she’d read his mind since he hadn’t actually done anything yet but then saw she was talking to the girl sitting in front of her.

‘Humne kaha tha na, humare pati ka naam likana tha humme… par ab?! Yahaan toh jaga hi nahi hai!’ As he watched, Arnav noted the girls’ slightly scared expresion as Khushi lamented over her mehndi covered hands theatrically. She met his eyes worriedly when he came to stand behind Khushi who had suddenly frozen mid-sentence and she looked relieved when he gestured for her to leave them. Khushi on the other hand, still looked annoyed as he sat down next to her, ‘Hi..’

 

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She looked up quickly and her pout turned into a slow smile and her eyes lit up as Arnav reached for her arms to have a look at the damage. The intricate designs covered her palms and ended in diagonal points at her wrists but Khushi seemed less bothered about that now.

‘Aap itni jaldi aagaye?!’ Her voice was full of happy surprise and Arnav nodded, ‘Haan, sab ko tumhare filmy gusse se bachana joh tha…’ He gave a short laugh at her outraged gasp and the pout returned as she gestured down to the hands he was still inspecting, ‘Aap hi kahiye – Arnav Singh Raizada – kitna lamba naam hai aur yahaan toh ‘A’ ka bhi jaga nahi hai!’

Khushi watched him as he looked down at her palms with a litte frown of concentration creasing his forehead and felt a rush of love for this man who was still sometimes a puzzle to her. She was disappointed about the mehndi but it didn’t really matter as she watched him with a smile; she was happier that he was here and that they were together.

‘Hmm, actually I think I can fix it…’ Khushi blinked as his words brought her out of her daydream, ‘Kya?!’ He nodded and she saw he wasn’t joking when he reached for the little cone of henna the girl had left behind.

‘Par aap kaise lagayenge?!’ She shook her head and held her hands away from him. ‘What’s the big deal Khushi?! It’s just like writing, haath do!’ Khushi raised a questioning eyebrow; she knew exactly what his writing was like… She looked at him as though he’d lost his mind but slowly brought her hands down and he took the left one carefully. There was no space free that she could see and she gave him another dubious look as he rolled his eyes and got to work.

Arnav smirked to himself, finding it funny that Khushi had screwed her eyes shut as though she was anticipating the worst imaginable torture. He ignored her hand completely and ran his fingers lightly over the skin of her wrist; the mehndi tapered off to a point but half her wrist was clear and he could feel her pulse begin to race under his fingertips as he ran his thumb over it. He felt her heart skip and smiled as he found the perfect spot to leave hiis mark.

***

 

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‘Done…’ Khushi opened her eyes just as he looked up and as his eyes met hers something in them made her heart thud while he blew lightly on her wrist. His eyes darkened and she felt her lips part when he gave a slow smile and her mouth went dry. Something clattered to the floor somewhere in the distance and Khushi jumped and looked away, suddenly aware that although they were sitting away from everyone else, they were far from alone.

She felt her cheeks grow warm as she looked around and tried to pull her hand from his while avoiding his eyes; but he was shameless and held on tight, speaking in a low voice when she tried to stand up, ‘Wait Khushi, apna haath nahi dhekogi?’

 

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Khushi had forgotten all about the mehndi by now but she paused mid-turn for a second and that was all the time he needed to pull her back down so that she was sitting comfortably with her back against him, his arm around her. ‘Arnavji..’

But he didn’t let her finish, ‘Shh, just look…’ he whispered in her ear and held up her hand in front of her. Her eyes widened in surprise and despite herself, she felt warmth flood through her as she saw the letters ‘LG’ scrawled neatly over the pulse point on her wrist. The skin around it was creamy white so that it contrasted brilliantly and seemed to jump out at her.

‘Laad Governor..!’ She spun round to face him, fully intending to tell him off for not writing a simple ‘A’ but she was met with wide eyes filled with mischief and the sweetest of smiles – all of which made her lose her train of thought abruptly. After a couple of seconds, she blinked and frowned again, ‘Aap hamesha aise karte hai!’

Arnav raised an eyebrow, ‘Kaise?!’ Khushi pointed at his still smirking face accusingly, as if he didn’t know, ‘Aise! Laad Governor aise muskurate hai kya?! Humari saari daat bhula di!’ Arnav couldn’t help but laugh at her crestfallen expression for not being able to scold him properly. Before he could say anything else, they heard a sound and looked up to find NK standing beside them. ‘Khushiji, aap ne mehndi lagayi, dikaye naa!’

Khushi’s face went pink and she moved away from Arnav pretending she hadn’t heard NK and Arnav smirked, ‘Haan Khushi, let’s see…’ She frowned at him and then held up her hands reluctantly to NK, ‘Wow that looks great… lekin yeh LG..?!’ Khushi went redder and glared at him again before muttering something under her breath but NK had already looked between the two and figured it out. ‘Good one Nannav! I - I mean, it’s nice Khushiji, uhh lagta hai mujhe Naaniji bhula rahi hai!’

Khushi stood up as NK made a fast exit and Arnav stood up too, stopping her from going anywhere by holding her by the elbow, ‘Tumhe sach main acchi nahi lagi?’ He waited, till he saw her eyes soften as she looked down at her wrist and then she looked back up at him with a smile; her eyes shining and her face still pink. ‘I knew it…’ Khushi laughed and shook her head, asking how he knew and Arnav took the moment to grab her by the waist and pull her close.

 

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He touched her cheek lightly and her eyes closed with a shiver, ‘I knew, because tumhari dono gaal laal ho gayi…’ He tweaked her nose and Khushi blinked slowly, falling under the husky spell of his voice, ‘Aur naak bhi…’ He leaned in closer and Khushi reached up in anticipation but his lips had just brushed hers when she belatedly remembered where they were and mumbled something which she hoped was protest.

Arnav sighed and pulled away, ‘Fine…’ But before she could say anything else he pulled her into his arms, resting his head on her shoulder as he held her close. Khushi smiled and hugged him back as best she could with her mehndi covered hands. She felt completely content; her hunger totally forgotten and as she breathed him in she opened her eyes and saw a glimmer of silver shining through the window behind them. ‘Arnavji?’ She waited till she felt him say ‘Hmm?’

‘Aap ko pata hai, chaand nikal aaya..!’ Arnav smiled against her neck and held her tight, remembering the way her eyes had shone at seeing her silly nickname for him adorning her wrist. All he’d wanted was for her to smile and to him that was a more precious sight than anything. He sighed into her hair before pulling away slightly and looking down into her sparkling eyes he smiled again and shrugged, ‘I know – maine already dekh li…’

 

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What Women Want

Timeframe: Written late July 2012. Unlike my other work this one is set sometime in the future and was just my mind wandering… and hoping! Enjoy x

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The first thing Arnav saw when he opened his eyes was the flash of silver hovering right above his nose. His sleep muddled brain identified the sharp object sluggishly and after an initial moment of shock, his body reacted and he slid out from under it; leaping off the bed before turning around angrily, ‘What the hell Khushi? Kya kar rahi thi tum?!!’

His wife, he saw, didn’t even have the decency to look guilty. She simply rolled her eyes and stood up from where she’d been leaning over him with a lethal looking pair of scissors and he got the distinct impression that she had no intention of putting them down, let alone apologising.

Khushi raised an eyebrow and gestured with the scissors till it dawned on him what she’d been about to do; his hands flew to his hair to check she hadn’t succeeded and he was relieved to find he didn’t suddenly have a bald patch. ‘How could you Khushi?! Tum aise hi mere baal kaat le thi?’

Khushi ignored the exaggerated hurt and outrage her husband was throwing her way, knowing it was a ploy to distract rather than anything else. She’d been asking him for weeks to cut his hair but he liked to be difficult and now she’d had enough – this was the day those long gel-covered locks were going down, however she managed it!

‘Toh? Aap toh aur logo ki tarah baal katwa the nahi hai…’ She twirled the scissors she’d recently swiped from HP around her fingers and shrugged almost casually, as if a home cut in his sleep was the only logical alternative.

‘Wow, you really are completely crazy…’ He seemed utterly mystified by her but she was on a mission and having none of it. She marched over to him and held the scissors up between their faces to make her intentions clear, ‘Dekhiye, aap humme behka ne ki koshish bhi mat kijiye – aap ko aap ke baal kaat ne hoge, bas!’

Arnav raised an eyebrow and folded his arms, ‘Oh really? Bas?’ He tilted his head to one side to emphasise his point, ‘And if I don’t…?’ He stepped closer to her, fascinated by the crazy glint in her eye but the days when she was scared of him were long gone; instead of moving backwards she stood her ground and pushed her face into his, ‘Toh aap ki kair nahi Mr Raizada.’

They stared at each other with narrowed eyes, each trying to determine how serious the other was until finally Arnav relaxed and shrugged before looking at her challengingly, ‘I am not cutting my hair Khushi Kumari Gupta-Singh Raizada. Kar lo jo bhi karna hai…’

He smirked and kissed the tip of her now delicately pink nose which only made her eyes shoot sparks and then he heard her spluttering incoherently to herself as he walked into the bathroom and shut the door behind him, ‘… Laad Governor!’

Arnav’s smile widened, ‘I heard that!’ And then his smile turned into a full throated laugh when something that sounded suspiciously like scissors hit the bathroom door before clattering noisily to the floor.

***

Arnav frowned at the report he was reading – or trying to read – while Khushi moved around their room, folding things, moving others and generally distracting him with her presence.

It was late afternoon and he was working from home, feeling surprised and faintly disappointed that she seemed to have given up on her challenge so easily. He wasn’t really too attached to his hair - in fact he’d been meaning to get it cut for the past week but hadn’t had the time. He just hadn’t made her aware of that fact… it was more enjoyable that way.

‘Khushi, woh..’ Whatever he’d been about to grudgingly admit about his hair flew out of his head as Khushi walked out of the bathroom and passed him on her way to the dresser, wearing a red saree that looked like it was made of tissue paper.

‘Whaat…?’ The file he was reading slipped to the floor unnoticed as he watched her brush out her hair and then start to fill her wrists with countless tinkling bangles, not seeming to notice him at all.

 

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Before he knew what he was doing he was already standing behind her, reaching out for her shoulders when he looked up at the mirror and saw a triumphant gleam reflected her eyes.

He paused for a second, wondering if she was up to something, just as she reached up to fasten some earrings and he quickly decided that he didn’t mind if she was. ‘Here, let me…’ He reached down and brushed her hair aside, letting his fingers linger on her warm skin as he helped tie up her necklace.

Khushi watched her husband’s hooded eyes in the mirror and smiled to herself for a second before getting distracted by his wandering fingers. He was already leaning in to kiss her neck when she mentally shook herself and stood up, turning around to look at him. She kept her gaze focused on his jaw because she knew the heat in his eyes would melt through her resolve as easily as a hot knife through butter. He reached for her wordlessly, his intent very clear but she held up a hand firmly, ‘Hum pooja ke liye tayyar ho rahe hai – aap ke liye nahi.’

The indignant look she received in return was enough to make her laugh but that laugh died in her throat as his gaze travelled over her in a way that made her want to look down and check she was still wearing clothes… ‘Tum yeh pehen ke pooja mein jaogi?!’

Khushi frowned at his dubious tone and looked down at the gorgeous deep red net saree she was wearing, the delicate yet intricate work she adored with the simplest of bronze borders. It was a favourite and she knew very well what he thought of it… ‘Haan toh..? Aap hi ne toh di thi humme!’

Arnav watched her run her hands over the folds of the saree distractingly, sorely tempted to rip it off and claim back his gift. He let out an impatient breath and shrugged; all thoughts of ulterior motives on her part forgotten. ‘Fine but pooja aaj raat hai, we still have hours…’ He pulled her into his arms but before he could even lean in she pushed against his chest and her eyes gleamed again and in the next instant she was glaring up at him mutinously.

‘Nahi. Bilkul nahi… jab tak aap apne baal nahi kaat le the.’ Khushi tried to keep herself from smirking as her words sunk in and his eyes widened in disbelief and then his brow twisted sceptically, ‘What the… Really?!’ Khushi nodded and folded her arms resolutely to show she meant business.

His narrowed eyes darkened as he moved towards her slowly and Khushi had no choice but to move away till she was leaning back over the dresser. She closed her eyes as she felt his lips travel across her cheekbone, along her jawline and to the sensitive spot beneath her ear. At the same time his hands trailed an equally fiery path down her back and she struggled to keep her senses as he breathed, ‘…really?’ She held her breath and gritted her teeth against the shivers running down her spine, ‘H-haan…’

 

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Arnav sighed as he pulled back and looked down at his wife appraisingly, taking in her erratic breathing, her flushed face and the determined set of her jaw. He knew he could easily turn her to mush if he wanted and it would even be fun but instead he watched her thoughtfully as he let his fingers trace the long line of her neck, before he curled them around her necklace and gently pulled her towards him, making their noses brush.

‘And if I said I’d cut it first thing tomorrow…?’ He watched her eyes light up at the victory and felt a shot of warmth in his own defeat. ‘Sach?!’ Arnav nodded and Khushi let her arms wind themselves around his neck as his lips found the corner of hers, ‘So… deal?’ he asked distractedly and Khushi just had enough time to nod before he sealed it with a slow, lingering kiss which she wholeheartedly returned, vaguely surprised that he’d toppled so easily.

A short while later she felt his fingers pulling impatiently at the strings of her blouse and she pulled herself back from the edge and broke the kiss. ‘Ek minute!’ she said breathlessly, covering his mouth with a hand when he tried to kiss her again and trying to regain her balance at the same time.

She ignored his muffled groan and shook her head to clear it. ‘Aap baal kab kaatenge?’ Arnav blinked in dazed confusion and after a few seconds she felt him say ‘kal’ against her palm at which point she raised an eyebrow. ‘Toh…?’ She could feel his mouth fall open as his eyebrows shot up, ‘Seriously?!’

Khushi nodded and part of Arnav marvelled at the sheer depth of her stubborn streak while he shook his head and muttered ‘Khushi Kumari Gupta..’ through gritted teeth. She sighed and smiled up into flashing molten bronze eyes; happily unperturbed as she removed her hand from his mouth.

She reached up to smooth down his open collar where she’d scrunched it up earlier and then stretched up against him, letting her body rest against his for a moment as she whispered ‘-Singh Raizada..’ slowly into his ear before she brushed her lips over his cheek lightly and spun away, making it to the door with a laugh.

Arnav watched her go with narrowed eyes, knowing he’d created a monster but unable to stop the smile that was spreading across his face.

***

‘Haan Hari Prakashji, aap Di se pooch li jiye – hum aate hai!’ It was later that evening, all the pooja preparations were complete and Khushi was rushing as she checked and re-checked every last detail.

She’d been worried about running into Arnav again after she’d left him high and dry in their room but to her surprise she hadn’t seen or heard from him since. She was on the middle floor, re-arranging a few things in the living area when she turned around and bumped into someone coming down the stairs, knowing who it was even before she smacked into his chest nose first.

‘Careful!’ As his arms shot out to steady her, Khushi rubbed her nose and noticed absently that Arnav had changed into black jeans and a dark grey top, missing half of what he was saying in the process, ‘..and why are you always in such a hurry?!’

Her smart retort about him being the king of impatience died on her lips when she looked up and realised his hair was still wet from a shower – and it was magically and beautifully cut short and completely product free! An instant smile lit up her face but she pretended to appear puzzled as she poked a finger at his temple tentatively, ‘Hum sapna toh nahi dekh rahe… aap humare Laad Governor hi hai na?!’

Arnav rolled his eyes but couldn’t help smiling as she suddenly ran both hands through his hair and giggled to herself as if she’d won a prize. He took the opportunity to slide his arms around her waist and pull her close. ‘Happy?’ Khushi nodded and smiled to herself as she brushed her fingers over tops of his ears which were now peeking out at her endearingly.

It was silly but seeing him like this made her eyes almost well up. It brought back vivid memories – memories of their uniquely strange journey which she could finally look back on without any twinge of pain or regret. Because all of it had somehow led her here. To him.

She was still lost in her musings when suddenly she became very aware of his hands sliding across her bare back and she remembered where they were. ‘Arnavji! Chodiye humme, koi agaya toh?!’ She struggled and looked around but he held on, not ruffled in the slightest, ‘Who cares Khushi? And anyway, sab pooja mein busy hai…’ She remembered the pooja and panicked, somehow managing to wriggle away from him as she rattled off a hundred and one things she needed to do but Arnav stopped her in her tracks by placing two fingers over her lips.

‘Shhh! Shut up Khushi – I have a few things to say.’ Khushi made a face but waited and he continued in a low, husky voice that played havoc on her already heightened senses, ‘First – the deal’s off, maine apne baal aaj hi kaat diye, so no deal. Agreed?’

Arnav watched with some satisfaction as his words sunk in and first she looked confused and then he tried not to laugh when he saw a flash of disappointment darken those bottomless hazel depths. But he waited till she nodded before he carried on in a softer voice, ‘Good because I want you to be very clear about one thing…’

Khushi had no idea where he was going with this but he seemed deadly serious all of a sudden and she held her breath as she blinked up at him, getting lost in eyes now a dark shade of burnt bronze and filled with promise. ‘Joh bhi main ab karoonga woh kissi shart ya deal ke waje se nahi hoga Khushi Kumari Gupta-Singh Raizada…’

He moved his fingers from her lips and gave her a heart-stopping smile and before Khushi could even form a coherent thought he’d reached down and lifted her over his shoulder in one smooth move, leaving her breathless.

For a second Khushi was stunned into silence but she couldn’t help the surprised shriek that escaped her lips as he turned on his heel and carried her unceremoniously up the stairs and towards their room, ‘Yeh kya kar rahe hai aap?!! Chodiye humme… Laad Governor!!’

She could hear the smirk in his voice as she punched him half-heartedly on the shoulder, knowing it was no use, ‘Not so loud Khushi… koi agaya toh?!’ She shook her head at his accurate imitation of her earlier scandalised tone and buried her face in his back as she laughed in exasperation and let herself get lost in the feel of being in his arms.

She held on to him tightly as they went, no longer caring where they were going, beginning to feel almost drunk and light-headed as she breathed him in. She let one hand slide up his back and across his shoulders till it reached the now clean nape of his neck and she sighed contentedly, running her fingers through his hair as they reached their room and he shut the doors firmly behind them…

 

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Breaking the Ice

Timeframe: Written late July 2012, based around the end of their contract marriage.

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Part One

He sat in the living area; his back straight, face devoid of expression, staring intently at the laptop screen in front of him with eyes that refused to stop burning. He did this every evening after work and made sure he stayed there for a short perioed of time else they’d start coming to his room one by one to make sure he was ‘ok’… to which he never really had a response because they only had to look into his eyes to see how ok he was.

Now he could feel them moving around him quietly, concerned, talking amongst themselves; his family.

Someone set down a mug of coffee next to him which he ignored; he heard Nani sigh but he didn’t look at her. He avoided all of their pitying eyes and focused on the little clock in the bottom-right corner of his laptop: 22.15. Another 10 minutes he decided, just as someone threw themselves next to him, causing him to look up in surprise.

‘Nannav mere bhai! Aaj bhi itni late…?’ NK ignored the furious glare he received and carried on doggedly, determined to bring Arnav out of his funk today at least; he had never been one to give up on hoping for miracles.

‘C’mon Nannav, ek din ke liye you couldn’t take the day off…?!’ He waited but got no response so he risked putting a hand on Arnav’s shoulder, ‘Ok mere bhai, never mind, h-’ Before he could finish Arnav shot to his feet and closed his laptop with a snap.

‘I’m fine NK.’ Arnav didn’t let NK finish what he’d opened his mouth to say and brushed away his concern before he turned and strode up to his room, leaving them to think whatever they wanted. He didn’t let out a breath till he got to his room but once there he found no peace in its semi-darkness either.

He sighed as he put down his laptop and moved to the wardrobe. He pulled off his grey tie and began removing clothes from the wardrobe on auto, trying to ignore the gaping spaces which he couldn’t get himself to fill in all these days. The spaces were just there waiting, cold and empty like he was…

I can’t think of all that right now; not again, he thought, not tonight. Instead he slid the wardrobe door shut quietly and focused on putting one foot in front of the other, going from the wardrobe to the bathroom to take a shower. But once he was done and there was nothing else to do but think, he simply sat on the edge of his recliner, holding his silent phone in his hand and staring blankly out into the darkness.

‘Aaj ke din bhi kya Laad Governor bane rahenge..?!’ He swallowed hard at the lilting voice that was always inside him, struggling to breathe evenly as he tried and failed not to think about all the ways in which he’d managed to reduce his life to this.

 

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***

‘Ae Sanka Devi! Kya kar rahi ho itni raat ko? Soh kyu nahi jaati?!’ Khushi jumped as Buaji prodded her in the ribs and looked down at the phone in her hands guiltily before she stopped twisting it nervously and straightened up.

She let Buaji fuss over her and made the right noises till she left her alone in the darkened room and Khushi sat up in bed. She ignored the creaking underneath her and as she picked up the phone once again, her eyes unwittingly fell on the empty space next to her. It had always been her side of the bed since she could remember but now even though it was empty, it was someone else’s.

She didn’t even need to close her eyes to see him, wearing white perhaps, or maybe grey… Sleeping on his side with strands of hair curling over his forehead, one hand tucked under his cheek and another reaching out for her…

Khushi shook her head to rid herself of the vivid images, swallowing the lump in her throat and covering up the empty space up with a blanket. Not that it helped much. During her first few nights back home she’d tried sleeping there but it’d felt wrong, then she’d tried putting pillows there instead but that felt even more wrong so she’d given up and admitted defeat; she knew nothing would fill that space and she just had to live with it.

She shifted again and the loud creak brought with it whispered memories, ‘tumhari side jo hai, chup kaise reh sakti hai..?’ The husky voice made her heart ache and the phone in her hand beeped in protest as her fingers dug into the buttons. She looked down at it again and told herself it didn’t matter; in the weeks since she’d left him, he’d called every night even though she never answered. But she hadn’t really expected it to ring tonight; that choice was hers to make.

‘Aaj ke din toh tum Arnavji ko ek phone kar sakti ho Khushi..’ Payal’s pleading words from earlier in the day rang in her mind. Her sister couldn’t bear to see either of them so miserable but Khushi had held fast in her stance.

Their marriage was over. She’d honoured the 6 month contract and then she’d tried to leave with as little fuss as possible, waiting till he’d gone out of town for a couple of days but the aftermath of the truth had rocked both families and she hadn’t been able to hide from it for long. But she’d stuck to her decision; she had already caused him too much pain, she knew he was torn so she’d decided to take herself out of the picture and make it a little less difficult for him. 

He’d come as expected, storming in like a hurricane, offering no excuses or explanations, ignoring her families protests and simply demanding to see his wife.

At first It had been easy for Khushi to turn the tables and lie, saying she could never forgive him for what he’d done - because he’d flown in all guns blazing as usual; furious and trying to force his will on her. But it had been much harder for her to hold up the lie once the angry mask disintegrated and she could clearly see the despair in his eyes as he pleaded for her to just come home.

She’d come so close to breaking in that moment but had managed to turn away, repeating to herself that it was for the best and he would be better off without her - the whole family would be able to put the pieces back together without her there as a constant reminder.

She hated lying but she’d only lied so that he’d let her go. After that he’d tried to see her on more than one occasion but she’d always refused, knowing she was breaking both their hearts. He wanted another chance but she couldn’t risk facing him otherwise he’d know the truth; that he didn’t need another chance because he would always have her heart.

A clock chimed somewhere outside and Khushi looked at the glowing digits of her alarm clock; 23.30.

There was no need for her to call. She’d already gone against her better judgement today thanks to NK’s prodding. He’d been the most supportive but he also kept up the constant chatter about Shantivan so she knew that although some things were settling back into normal routines, Arnav was distancing himself from all of them more and more as the days went by.

She’d given in finally when he’d told her sadly that he hadn’t seen ‘Nannav’ smile in over a month… ‘I wish tumhe duniya ki saari khushiya mile…’ His heartfelt words echoed in her mind and she sighed, putting the phone down while still biting her nails; there really was no need for her to call…

 

Part Two

Arnav sighed as he snipped off a thorn from the foliage in front of him and endless words ran through his mind in a voice clear as day, ‘shaitan apni podho ka bohth khayal rakta tha… sundari ko bohth darra tha tha… pal mein shaitan, pal main raj kumar…’ He closed his eyes and put down the pruning shears before looking around, desperate for a distraction.

For the first time he noticed that his garden was green and blooming, dotted with splashes of colour from the roses he’d planted after she’d gone. But seeing it did nothing to ease the ache and only made him wonder how the same hands that had driven her away could bring so much life.

He didn’t know what to do anymore, he’d tried every way to get her to talk to him but she was hell bent on avoiding him… He knew she loved him, he’d seen it, felt it but he couldn’t ignore the fact that he had hurt her countless times and in countless ways and he wasn’t sure if she could forgive him either. He knew it was selfish of him to want her back after everything that’d happened but he couldn’t let it go because everything was meaningless without her.

There was a knock on the door which he ignored as he walked into his room and picked up his phone, not surprised to see a few work e-mails but no calls. The person knocked again and before he could answer, the door opened and a head appeared. ‘Nannav mere bhai, tum andhere mein kyu betein ho?’ NK barged in just as Arnav muttered a short ‘cos it’s almost midnight’ more out of annoyance than anything else.

‘Relax Nannav, main batti jalane nahi aaya, I came to give you a present!’ Arnav rolled his eyes, ‘I don’t want anything from you, go to sleep NK.’ He tried to shove him back out but NK held up a small gift-wrapped package as if it would save him.

‘It’s not from me! I..uh, mujhe kahi bahar mila tha, it’s for you!’ Arnav glanced down at the bright purple sparkly package which had no tag and frowned but he took it just to get rid of NK, ‘OK thanks, bye.’

‘Wait! Aren’t you gonna open it? Mujhe bhi dekhna hai!’ Arnav gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to throw the box at NK’s smilingly expectant face. ‘Fine.’ He ripped open the package and suddenly froze with his eyes wide open until after a long moment a faint smile touched his lips when he remembered the annoyed promises she’d muttered to herself of how she’d mark this day…

‘Mosquito repellent coil?! What the..?!’ NK’s incredulous words cut off abruptly as Arnav’s brain grasped onto the bit of hope in his hands, trying to figure out what it meant and he asked urgently, ‘Where did you get this NK? Kiss ne di?!’

NK shook his head disgustedly for a second but his next words confirmed it for Arnav and his face broke out into its first smile of weeks, ‘Usse pata tha ke tum smile karoge!’ He frowned for moment and then sighed, ‘You know Nannav, tum dono bohth hi ajeeb ho…’ NK shook his head again, as if it was all beyond his understanding and then patted Arnav on the shoulder before he turned to leave, ‘Happy Birthday Nannav.’

***

He was still holding the box, wishing there was more – a note, anything to show it was more than just a gift, that it meant more. He looked down at his phone; 23:45. Should he call her? She hadn’t answered in all these days but maybe tonight… He took a breath and dialled in her number from memory but then thought she was probably asleep so he cleared the screen when suddenly the phone rang. He looked down at the blank screen in confusion and realised it was the cordless phone on the table that was ringing and not his mobile. 

 

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‘Hello?’ Khushi’s eyes widened and as her heart started beating too fast she resisted the sudden urge to slam the phone down.

It was just hello and he sounded just as abrupt as ever but she felt tears spring into her eyes as she tried to calm her heart down. ‘Hello..?’ There was silence for the longest time and now she held onto the phone tightly till she heard a sigh, ‘Khushi…’ She wasn’t surprised; she was just relieved to hear his voice saying her name again after so long. ‘Kaisi ho Khushi?’

All Arnav could hear was rustling but he knew it was her, had known it almost instantly. He felt like anything he said might scare her off so he waited until it got unbearable and he tried to get her to respond, ‘Kuch bolo gi nahi Khushi? Finally bolti band ho gayi..?’ He heard a sharp intake of breath and then, ‘Kya?! Nahi hum toh…’ She stopped again and Arnav felt a mixture of relief and longing run through him at the sound of her voice, so full of indignation and yet he could still hear her tears.

‘Don’t cry Khushi… meri yaad aa rahi thi iss liye phone kiya?’ He closed his eyes and enjoyed the bittersweet ache as heard her mutter incoherently for a minute and then tell him categorically that she was not crying, ‘humme sirf aap ko janam din ki badayi deni thi bas!’

He heard her take a shaky breath and then say quietly, ‘aap sapne  dekhna chod dijiye Mr Raizada.’ Arnav stood up and walked to the window. He looked out at the garden thoughtfully, feeling oddly calm as he wondered if he should push his luck and risk her hanging up, but in the end he could’t help himself. ‘Aur tum apne aap se jhoot bolna chod do Mrs Raizada.’

‘Ab hum sirf Khushi Kumari Gupta- hai!’ She sounded firm enough and he could easily see the stubborn glint she must have had in her eyes but he heard the involuntary pause after ‘Gupta’ and a wistful smile crossed his face, ‘You’re wrong Khushi… tum hamesha Mrs Arnav Singh Raizada hi rahogi, I can promise you that.’

He let that sink in for a moment but didn’t let her cut in when she tried, ‘Thank you for the gift Khushi - I’m glad tum ne apna vaada nahi bhula… Mujhe wish nahi karogi?’

Khushi blinked in confusion, her mind still reeling at the turns one simple phone call had taken in a matter of minutes. She wondered if they’d ever have a normal conversation where one wasn’t challenging the other. He prompted her again and she decided to ignore everything else and focus on why she’d called, suddenly intensely aware that she wouldn’t be speaking to him again.

‘Aap ko apni janam din mubarak ho Arnavji,’ her voice broke a little as she continued softly, ‘Devi Maiyya aap ko duniya ki har khushi de.’ She swallowed back tears and waited until he replied in a soft voice which seemed to reverberate through her, his words filling her with despair and longing even as her heart sang, ‘lekin duniya mein meri toh sirf ek hi  Khushi hai.’

Khushi couldn’t reply, her throat was too thick with tears and she was scared of what she’d say if she let herself speak. Maybe he understood because he waited a little longer and then sighed, ‘Goodnight Khushi.’ She heard the click and then let her tears fall. She knew it had been a bad idea, the present had been stupid enough but the quiet certainty with which he’d said she would always be his wife had scared her and thrilled her in equal measures.

She felt lost and she missed him more than ever but part of her felt almost revitalised after hearing his voice and underneath it all she was just happy to know he was safe and well. And that he’d smiled after seeing her silly gift…

Arnav hadn’t expected her to reply so he’d said a quiet goodnight and put the phone down. He leaned his forehead on the cool glass of the window and closed his eyes, not knowing which emotion to feel first - the joy of hearing her voice after so long, pain that she was still angry and hurt or confusion that she expected him to find happiness without her… He pushed himself away from the window and saw it was midnight; his birthday was over but for the first time he felt that maybe all hope wasn’t lost.

 

Sparks

Timeframe: Written late May 2012 while Arnav was kidnapped – just some musings on how he was maybe handling it..

*******

‘Happy to see you, setting me off like sparks,

You ignite all the colours inside my heart…

On the doorstep, like we’ve never been apart,

           Hope you know that I’m happy to see you…’         

  

                                        - lyrics by Cover Drive: ‘Sparks’ 

 

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She came to him whenever he closed his eyes. Without fail and without question she was there; her face lit with a radiant smile, as if she’d been waiting only for him all along, her endless hazel eyes quietly comforting as they enveloped him in their warmth, making the pain meaningless.

Those eyes held him, kept him from going to pieces and along with comfort he felt within them a spark, a slow-burning flame of determination that seared its way right through him, refusing to let him give up.. And as he concentrated on taking one breath after another, he felt it ignite life back into him, illuminating the darkness that was both inside and out

There was movement around him, jarring and heavy but easy to ignore as he felt her cool fingers tracing his face, bringing with them a sensation that felt like a tricking breeze. Her voice whispered his name and he tried hard to hold onto it…

Someone shook him roughly and as his consciousness slowly returned, Arnav felt a faint sense of alarm because a detached part of his brain noted that each time it was slower. He blinked sluggishly in the bad light and felt water dripping from his face where they must have splashed him when he hadn’t moved.

Someone shoved something into his mouth and then he felt the cutting edge of tin against his lower lip as his head was yanked back and water flowed down his throat, taking the tablet with it. He forced himself not to gulp it down too fast; he didn’t want to waste the energy on another choking fit. The water felt like heaven in his too parched mouth even though it hit his empty stomach painfully and it was taken away all too soon.

He kept his eyes half shut feigning unconsciousness this time as he listened to them talk about his illness, a couple taking bets on how long he’d survive and another admonishing them because they needed to keep him alive.

Arnav fought the sudden insane urge to laugh as the irony hit his sleep deprived brain. Here he was, bloody and bruised and tied to a chair while the men holding him hostage discussed ways to keep him alive… He wondered if he should make a few choice suggestions and risk another blackout but decided against it; it took him longer to wake up each time and he was losing track of what day it was – or even if it was day at all.

They hadn’t tied his legs back up since the last time two of them had taken him to the barely functioning bathroom at gunpoint. Now one of the men checked his wrists and he tightened his right arm up against the bindings as discreetly as he could until the man gave a grunt and signalled to the others and they left.

After they’d gone, Arnav loosened his grip and looked towards the table hopefully but he saw the phone was no longer there and he cursed himself for fainting the last time he’d tried to reach it. He closed his eyes, giving into the hopelessness of the moment before he saw her eyes again and his hands moved reflexively.

He opened his eyes with fresh determination and rolled his shoulders, feeling his bones pop and his muscles ache. He took a breath and with gritted teeth he began to rub against the rope binding his right wrist to the chair. It was looser than the last time he’d tried but the blood had dried over, so the rope was almost stuck to his skin and he had to twist further till it gave a little.

He heard a thin sound and realised it was his own breathing as he struggled but there was no other way for it; he’d tried negotiating, buying them off by offering money, power, whatever they wanted but they hadn’t been interested.

It seemed till their boss made an appearance they wouldn’t budge but Arnav wasn’t intending to meet him just yet; not till he got free somehow at least… after that he would make them pay. He ignored the fresh blood that his effort was drawing and kept straining against the rope, trying to use the slick wetness to slide his hand out but it was slow going and the pain was making him light-headed.

He took another breath and swallowed, ignoring how dry his mouth was and how mind-numbingly exhausted he felt after just a few minutes of struggling. Instead he turned his mind elsewhere, distracting himself however he could.

He tried to recall if it was this morning or yesterday when he’d spoken to his family and given them each the words of reassurance they’d needed… till he’d finally got a fleeting moment of something he’d needed; just to know that she was there, to ease her fears as well as his own. He hadn’t intended to say anything more but it had burst out of him, the words he’d kept buried deep inside for so long, where he never let himself venture.

Something had gripped him and in that moment he’d simply known without a doubt that if this was the end then those were the last words he wanted her to hear from his lips, ‘Khushi, I love you…’

It’d been a relief almost, to have her hear them and nothing else seemed to matter right then. He wished she’d said something, anything at all; he would have happily taken an ‘I hate you’ in response if it only meant he got to hear her voice. But she’d only cried. He hadn’t needed to hear her to feel her anguish; her tears had always been something he could never bear, worse than the worst pain and even here in his last moments his broken heart was somehow connected to them.

His struggles seemed futile as time wore on and he could feel the energy draining out of him. His mind recalled memories from their past and he felt a faint smile touch his lips as he heard her voice echo inside him like as though it was yesterday, ‘Hum ne kaha rakshas hai aap – rakshas!!’ She’d been so outraged, furious and spitting mad that he would dare to live with someone before marriage…

‘Humari batti nahi jal rahi… aap neeche aa jayenge toh jal jayegi warna..?’ Nervous, confused and walking on eggshells around him, she’d been so innocent… and what had he done to her?

He felt his eyes sting with tears as they closed and he felt the ghost of her hand in his, her fingers fighting to hold onto him, ‘Mat jaaiye… agar aap hi chale jayenge toh hum saans hi nahi…’ His heart twisted at the thought of anything happening to her, he couldn’t let it. He saw her face again, the way her eyes shone with an inner light and something flared inside him while his hand gave a final tug before his eyes flew open; numb with surprise as he looked down. His hand was free…

 

Darmiyaan

Timeframe: Written in May 2012, during their stay at Gupta house, the night/morning after Khushi’s friends wedding.

*******

‘Benaam rishta woh,

Bechain kar tha joh,

Ho na sake joh bayaan… Darmiyaan

 

Daymiyaan, darmiyaan,

Kuch toh tha, tere mere darmiyaan…’

 

He lay on his left, facing her back and for a second he was thrown by the fact that he could easily tell she was upset simply from the lines of her body and the way she was sleeping – curled in on herself, her shoulders tense and her breathing slightly erratic.

He knew it wasn’t anger alone that was troubling her; it was the hurt he’d given her, the pain that continued to fester and grow. Seeing her try her best to cover it up caused him as much guilt as it confused the hell out of him because he didn’t know why and was no closer to answers than he had been on the night of their marriage.

How could marriage matter so much to her when she’d had no qualms over telling a married man to leave his wife for her? Why had she pretended that their wedding had been special to her friends when it had most likely been her worst nightmare? Why had she told Garima that things were so perfect between them – that he was perfect? Why did her each and every word make his stomach churn with sickening guilt when he’d seen proof that she was holding on to someone else’s memories only a few hours ago?

Why despite everything did it feel like he was the monster, like he was the one who’d ruined someone’s life? Why did her words make him feel like he’d stolen something precious from her; something he could never give back or replace no matter how hard he tried..?

The questions kept on piling up, the confusion kept on growing and everything he’d firmly believed was becoming shakier by the minute, all his convictions hanging by a maddening thread…

She shifted slightly and he silently watched her struggling with some unknown emotion while she slept. She hadn’t been her usual self before they’d gone to bed; hadn’t chattered aimlessly about the wedding, hadn’t tried to trick him into giving up his side of the bed or annoyed him with random nuggets of useless information… and even though he should be happy, it ate away at him because he was the reason. She’d been quiet and subdued after the conversation with Garima and even in sleep it seemed to follow her, not allowing her to let go and relax and sleep with her usual abandon.

She rolled onto her back but her face was still turned away from him. Soft moonlight fell across her face and he could easily make out the thick sweep of her eyelashes and the delicate flush of pink on her cheek. He felt something ache inside when he saw the way her arms were still wrapped around herself even though she was fast asleep.

He’d spent the past few nights pushing her away, trying to make his own space on the tiny bed, untangling himself from her but now he couldn’t seem to fall asleep; her words still echoed in his mind, her tears still fresh and he felt strangely cold and empty without the soft feel of her glued to his side.

 

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He scooted a little closer to her warmth and she continued to sleep, unaware that he’d brushed away the ever present line between them and was watching her closely, unable to even explain to himself what he was doing. Relieved that he hadn’t woken her, he angled his head on her pillow so that he could breathe her in as his eyes drifted shut finally; giving in to comfort she unknowingly brought him.

Despite the slight relief, all his earlier confusion continued to gnaw away at him until eventually he fell into a restless sleep. All the while there was a heavy and achingly painful truth playing on his mind; the knowledge that even though only a few breaths of air separated them physically, there was so much hurt and mistrust between them that they may as well have been poles apart.

***

Khushi woke with the nagging feeling that she was late… no, that she was missing something; something that should be obvious. She felt unsettled, like nothing was right. She took a breath and opened her eyes, trying to get rid of the feeling and then felt a solid but steady heat radiating from her hand. She looked up and her eyes widened when she saw Arnav’s head almost on her pillow, their hands entwined tightly and resting between them.

 

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He was fast asleep and she felt her heart constrict as it always did when she was faced with this, the sweetest of images, first thing in the morning. She preferred it when he woke up before her and went jogging; at least then her heart didn’t melt at the sight of his sleeping face. The hair falling across his forehead made him look younger and without the fierce expressions he always seemed to carry when he was around her, it was a softer and more innocent Arnav she saw now, one she’d never really had the luck to meet.

‘Sapne dekhna band karo Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada!’ She narrowed her eyes as she imagined his voice growling out the words and he was right - she had no business day dreaming about him.

From their stay here she’d realised something she’d probably always known; that he wasn’t a heartless man when it came right down to it. She had told Garima the truth in part – he did care about people and when that was the case, he would do all he could for that person and leave no stone unturned for their happiness. It was just her bad luck that she wasn’t one of those people.

The thought was like ice cold water that burned instead of freezing and she gritted her teeth as she tried to pull her hand out of his without waking him. But he was holding on too tight so she gave up and yanked her hand away and her heart stopped when he sat up instantly, calling out her name and breathing hard.

She forgot all her reservations and sat up next to him anxiously, watching as he looked around blindly while he wiped sweat off his face with his sleeve. ‘Arnavji.. kya hua? Aap teek toh hai?!’

 

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Her voice was soft and she tried to mask the concern as his head spun round to face her and his wide eyes scanned her features quickly as if reassuring himself of something. His face was unguarded for a moment and Khushi thought she saw a flash of fear and relief before he swallowed and composed himself and it was gone. She asked again if he was alright but he shook his head, his eyes sliding away from hers as he put his walls back up, ‘It’s nothing, I’m fine.’

His gravelly voice and clipped out words were like sharp jabs at her already sensitive nerves, clearly telling her that she wasn’t welcome to know his thoughts and she cursed herself for feeling so hurt when he averted his gaze and slid out from under the mosquito net, away from her. She clenched her jaw in an effort not to cry and swallowed back tears, wondering why she was so bothered by this so small a slight when she’d faced worse.

She got out of bed and watched him for a minute as he moved around the room swiftly and in a hurry to escape, looking for something while he pulled out toiletries. She walked to the wardrobe and pulled out his towel before walking up to him and holding it out wordlessly. She expected him to simply take the towel and walk but he stopped when he saw her, a hand on the towel and in the moment that followed she saw conflicting emotions in his eyes as he looked down at her.

He looked confused but there was still anger there, and hurt; like he was silently accusing her of something. She didn’t know what he saw in her face but she thought she saw a hint of guilt darken his eyes before he swiped the towel and turned away.

She resisted the urge to drag him back and demand answers; answers about why he was treating her like she’d wronged him but refusing to explain even after all these days. She knew that tactic wouldn’t work because it hadn’t in the past; he always stopped himself at the last moment… denying them both of something.

She watched him go, wishing she could hate him because that would make things so much easier but when he turned at the door to look back at her, she was hit by an overwhelming sadness. Because she couldn’t hate him. And she just couldn’t escape the gnawing feeling that if they could only just get past whatever was holding him back, there was something so real and so precious between them, something that had survived everything they’d thrown at each other, something aching to be heard but kept getting drowned out by their insecurities.

She moved to the door resignedly, trying to focus on the day ahead and all the while wondering sadly if there’d ever be a time when what was between them would be given a voice…

 

Tangled Dreams

Timeframe: Written mid April 2012, during the ‘swami’ phase of their contract marriage - yes I went there for one random moment! I guess this is how I’d rather have seen Arnav deal with her annoying him… enjoy!

******* 

 

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‘Khushi!!’ Arnav looked around the bathroom in exasperation as he called her name for the third time with no answer, blinking against the evaporating steam from his recently taken shower. He couldn’t believe this girl; she’d do anything to get her own way! He shook wet hair out of his eyes as he scanned the pristine white bathroom again and confirmed his suspicions, ‘Khushi Kumari Gupta!! Give me my towel back NOW!!’

‘-Singh Raizada!’ Despite his annoyance, Arnav smirked at the indignance in her voice; he’d known she was out there.

‘Whatever! Mera towel kaha hai?!’ He listened hard and heard the soft chimes of her anklets as she paced outside the bathroom. ‘Humme kya pata? Aap ka towel hai…’ Arnav rolled his eyes at her flippant response and decided enough was enough. He moved to the door and spoke softly against it, knowing she could hear him. ‘Look behind you Khushi, mere kapde bhi waha hai… you see them..?’

‘If you don’t give me my towel on the count of three, I’m coming out like this.’ He gave her a couple of seconds to process that before continuing in a silky voice, ‘Aur tumhe main aaj nahi chodoonga…’

He waited for a minute, hearing more rustling outside but the door remained closed so he started his countdown with a smirk. ‘One…’ He heard her move closer to the door, her anklets were just outside, ‘A-aap a-aise kaise..?!’ She sounded flustered which made his smile widen, ‘Two…’

‘Dekhiya, aap…’ The click of the door opening stilled her voice and Arnav enjoyed the moment of silence, imagining the roundness of her eyes as he held the door open a few inches. ‘Th-’

Before he could complete the three, an arm shot around the open door, holding his towel and Arnav felt disappointment seep through him for a moment before he made a split second decision. He reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her in and using her unsteady momentum to push her back against the door – all before she could let out a gasp.

With his hands either side of her, he looked down into her face, taking in the wide open eyes and the way she was gripping the towel to her like her life depended on it. ‘Wait, what are you…’ Suddenly he was distracted as his eyes fell on the thin scarlet material draped over her shoulder and he felt his mouth go dry, ‘…wearing?!’

He raised his eyes slowly, feeling a heady rush as he took in the positively indecent saree, the barely there blouse, the hair falling like a silky cloud around her face… Even more distractingly, there was the tiniest hint of a smile on her lips and seeing it, he was lost.

A vague warning sounded somewhere in the back of his mind telling him something wasn’t right, but he pushed it away. He was beyond caring and reason as her smile sweetened, promising him heaven and he leaned forward, breathing her in… The towel seemed to have disappeared but he didn’t give it a second thought when he felt her fingers running over his chest and across his shoulders, her feather-light touch searing his still wet skin.

He dipped his head and brushed light kisses across her collarbone, his lips growing more insistent as they traced a path along the column of her neck to her jawline. He felt like he was burning up and he ignored an odd buzzing noise in his ear as his hands wound their way into her hair, making her moan softly against his neck. His fingers had just found the strings of her blouse when he felt the hand on his shoulder tighten and the buzzing grew louder as she somehow shook him really hard, ‘What the..?!’

 *

‘Aap ka phone Swami!’ Arnav’s eyes flew open at the last word and he drowsily scanned Khushi’s overly cheerful face for a long disorientated second; his brain still half tangled up in the extremely vivid dream he’d just been abruptly torn away from. He fought the sudden overwhelming urge to pull her on top of him by rolling away from her and burying his face into a pillow; which did nothing to help because it smelt just like her. ‘Go away Khushi!’

He was talking to the Khushi in his head as much as the one behind him; he was losing it and he knew it because he could still see her in that saree, feel her hands on him and almost taste the silky smooth skin…

He shook his head into the pillow and groaned as he pushed the thoughts away, focusing on how to get rid of the very real Khushi still trying to wake him with that stupid name. His dreams were becoming more frequent in their intensity and yet still enticingly just beyond reach, whilst reality was fast descending into madness with Khushi’s daily antics. 

‘What?! Kitni baar kaha hai mujhe Swami mat bulao!’ He sat up finally and glared at her while she hid her face under her scarf in mock fear.

He ignored the tears because they were fake – her real tears came silently and painfully, not like these, with her silly scarf pressed to her mouth… If he had his way he’d rip that scarf right off her head and burn it! ‘Kya? Aise kya dekh rahi ho?!’ How did she do it so convincingly, he wondered, looking at those dewy, softened eyes and tried to calm himself, knowing it was what she wanted. 

 

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He decided enough was enough and it was time to act; he’d had almost a week of this nonsense and he wasn’t going to take it any longer. He moved to the edge of the bed and noticed her step away skittishly before she stopped and forced herself to move closer again, plastering the ‘perfect wife’ mask back onto her face. Arnav’s eyes narrowed as he zeroed in on the slight chink in her armour and he suddenly knew what would unsettle her most and possibly help him end the insanity.

He lowered his legs to the floor, deliberately choosing the spot right where she stood and as he looked up, he flashed her a rare smile, noting the way she swallowed and tightened her grip on the ridiculous scarf. 

‘Kya baat hai Khushi, why did you wake me? I was having the best dream…’ He kept his voice low and soft but he couldn’t keep out the wistful tone as his mind wandered back. It didn’t matter though, because her mouth fell open and she looked around before holding up his phone which he’d guess had been buzzing the whole time.

‘Aap ka phone baj raha tha…’ He saw a quick flare of uncertainty in her wide eyes before it disappeared and he reached out to take the phone, enjoying the way her lips trembled as he let his fingers linger while his darkening eyes never wavered from hers. 

‘Thanks… aur meri chai?’ Khushi’s eyes widened further at his velvet soft words and she blinked slowly as she pointed blindly behind her, ‘Table pe…’ Her voice sounded unsteady but he didn’t let her gather her wits as he stood up in one fluid move, leaning close enough that their bodies were almost touching.

She moved back instantly, just as he’d known she would and his hands shot out, holding her arms and pulling her close again. ‘Ek minute Khushi!’ She was breathing fast and he could tell from her eyes that she wanted to bolt but she couldn’t without blowing her act so she waited and he smiled again, knowing she was caught.

He let one hand stroke her arm lightly while he used his other hand to slowly unwind her scarf from where it still rested on her head.

‘Kya bula thi ho mujhe? Swami right?’ Khushi nodded and his smile widened as he carried on conversationally, ‘Great! Phir toh tumhe waise rehni hogi jaise mujhe accha lagta hai… right?’ She nodded again slowly, looking wary and a little confused, ‘H-haan lekin..?’ She was distracted and completely thrown by the soft, persuasive lilt to his voice but she still protested when he took the scarf off fully and held it away from her, too high for her to easily grab.

He saw a familiar fire flare up in her eyes as she stretched across him trying to reach it and something inside him responded to it in ways he didn’t fully understand. Her eyes met his for one scorching second before she stopped abruptly, gritting her teeth as she lowered her arm and looked away. 

 

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Arnav lowered his arm a little and held the scarf up between them, fighting down the urge to grab her and shake her till she responded.

He took a breath, ‘Mujhe bilkul accha nahi lagta ke tum yeh dupatta tumhare sar par pehno. I hate it. Iss liye aaj se isse tum aise nahi pehnogi – understood?’ He looked her straight in the eye and kept his voice as measured as he could but there was no mistaking the steely undertone, ‘Mujhe koi Gopi nahi chahiye Khushi… so no dupatta, samjhi?’ 

He watched her process his words and try and find a way around them but he hadn’t yelled or thrown a fit so it was harder for her and he used that time to smooth out the material in his hand and slowly place it across her neck where it belonged. He hadn’t been lying; however short and painful this marriage was doomed to be, he wanted the real Khushi, not some simpering idiot and the scarf was a small start. She hadn’t said a word and as he smoothed the scarf over her neck, he realised she was watching him closely.

Time stood still again as their eyes met, and something burned between them when his fingers slipped and stroked across her collarbone. They both froze and Arnav was reminded of his dream which hadn’t done justice to the feel of her skin and he was suddenly tempted to put his lips there and carry on where his dream had so abruptly ended. Khushi seemed to read his eyes because she stepped back, looking flustered and somehow he reminded himself that the aim was to throw her off balance - not to make his own head spin. 

‘H-hum aap ki dawai le kar aate hai.’ Khushi seemed to have almost fully recovered her bland, ‘perfect wife’ expression and was turning to go but he stopped her again, not quite ready to let her off the hook.

‘One sec!’ She turned, questioning, and he closed the gap between them smoothly, ‘Tumhare gaal pe..’ he murmured, as he brushed an imaginary speck of dirt off her face slowly, watching as her lips parted and her cheeks went red. ‘Aur haan, paani mat bhool na. I’ll need a drink…’ he let his words sink in as his fingers stroked their way down her cheek, ending up at the point where her lips met.

He gave her another disarming smile and his eyes gleamed as Khushi shuddered before muttering something incoherent and dashing for the door, causing Arnav to bite back a sudden laugh as he watched her go.

The amusement faded as he walked over to the wardrobe and pulled out a towel; his actions almost mechanical while his thoughts focused elsewhere. As he turned and made his way to the bathroom, his mind whirled with tantalising fragments from his dream as well as thoughts on what had just happened; the annoying scarf covering half her face was gone and he hadn’t heard the word ‘Swami’ since she’d first woken him up.

They were only small victories but remembering the way she got tongue-tied whenever he got close, he felt confident that even though the lines were getting blurry, he could still beat her at her own game. He was determined to end whatever insane charade she’d started and decided that whatever happened he’d end up the winner as always…

 

Rest for the Wicked

Timeframe: Written late March 2012 – I wrote this on my iPhone notes app whilst being bored to death in a waiting room for a couple of hours. I was missing the show and I guess this was what I hoped was happening..

Storywise it occurs on the day Arnav got a crick in his neck from sleeping outside - enjoy!

*******

 

‘cos you know there aint no rest for the wicked…’

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He entered the room carefully, taking care not to disturb the ridiculous wind-chimes and hoping against hope it was empty. The day had been long, painful and exhausting and for a second, thinking about the miserable night ahead he almost walked back out.

No, he thought, he’d be damned if he let her drive him out of his own room! ‘You’re already sleeping on the floor outside, how more out can it get..?’

Arnav tried to shake his head angrily at the annoyingly accurate voice in his mind but he ended up groaning in pain as his stiff neck protested, sending shooting pains down his back. He threw his laptop bag onto the recliner and ripped out his earpiece. At least the room’s empty, he thought, angling his head round as much as he could before removing his jacket and waistcoat.

He went to the mirror and tried to move his head experimentally; it was a little better than this morning, painkillers had helped and he could hold it almost straight but he still couldn’t turn to the right without pain. Now he tried rubbing the sprained muscle, turning his neck as he did so but he couldn’t manage it and ended up yelping in pain as he closed his eyes and gave up, thinking he needed professional help. 

‘Arnavji… hum aap ki kuch madath kar de?’ His eyes flew open and he saw her in the mirror, standing behind him a little uncertainly; she must have been by the pool he thought. He turned slowly to look at her, frowning.

‘Meri madath… tum? Kyu? Tumhe toh maza aa raha hoga!’ She looked put out but he was too fed up to care, ‘Sab ka gala daba ne ka itna shokh hai ya main koi special case hoon?!’ He saw annoyance flare in her eyes as she folded her arms mutely and he moved around her to the wardrobe to look for his night clothes, holding his neck with his left hand while he used his right for everything. 

He heard her take a deep breath behind him but didn’t turn until she spoke, ‘Dekhiye, hum sach mein aap ka madath karna chahte hai, humme… bhura lag raha hai…’ Arnav watched her face warily as she spoke the last part hesitantly, looking for any hint of mischief in her eyes; he wouldn’t put it past her to try something. But he only saw worry and a hint of regret so he waited while she walked to the wardrobe and rifled through weird looking bottles and jars, picking out a few, ‘Look Khushi, it’s ok - main kal doctor ko dikha doonga-’ 

‘Kya? Itni si baat ke liye aap doctor ko pareshaan karenge?!’ She ignored his glare and told him to wait 5 minutes and she’d be back with something to fix his neck. He watched her go with a happy smile on her face and spring in her step, her chirpy ‘do minute mein aap ka gala hum yun hi teek kar denge!’ rang in his ears and he wondered what he’d let himself in for while he struggled to remove his shirt and get changed as he waited. 

***

‘Aap ka shirt..?!’ Khushi froze in her tracks when she came back to the room and turned back from shutting the doors only to see Arnav sitting on the recliner wearing only his black track pants, a grey tee shirt in his hand. She felt her heart thud; she really hadn’t thought this through…

At her words he looked up sharply and winced before he took in her red face and rolled his eyes as he stood up, ‘Forget it Khushi, it’s fine really and I’m tired anyway.’ He threw a pillow outside and began to pull on his tee shirt slowly and watching him struggle with it made Khushi’s mind up. 

‘Nahi! Hum ne kaha tha na hum aap ko teek kar denge?’ She held her ground when he pulled off the tee and walked towards her slowly, suddenly seeming much bigger than normal as he towered above her, deliberately trying to make her uncomfortable, ‘Really..?’ he asked with an eyebrow raised.

Khushi swallowed hard and steadied the small bowl she was holding, trying to ignore his half nakedness as she pointed towards the bed commandingly. ‘H-haan! A-aap ja ke waha betiye!’ She’d been going for firm but her voice still came out trembling slightly and he considered her for a minute before giving a one sided shrug and moving to sit on one side of the bed, looking up at her expectantly.

Khushi took a deep breath and moved forward – she could do this, ‘It’s just like when you fix Buaji’s neck sprain..’ she told herself as she settled onto the bed behind him cross legged, glad he couldn’t see her flaming cheeks.

Except Buaji had never looked like this, she thought, gulping again as she took in the broad expanse of his shoulders, the lean muscles rippling distractingly as he put his tee shirt to one side and waited. His skin looked silky smooth and bronze-like in the dimly lit room and Khushi suddenly wished she’d put on the overhead lights… 

‘Stop it,’ she told herself, ‘just do what you said you’d do and make him go sleep out there again!’ She didn’t even know why it was bothering her so much to see him in pain - he deserved it after everything he’d done! But it did bother her every time he winced or there was that horrible flash of pain in his eyes and it didn’t feel right or good to carry on with her plan till he was at least feeling ok. She just couldn’t be that heartless.

She shook her head and dipped her fingers into the slick herbal mixture she’d whipped up quickly on the stove, ignoring the rest of him with difficulty and focusing on the left side of his neck which looked slightly swollen. She placed one hand on the warm skin of his left shoulder blade to steady herself and felt his muscles tense up under her lightly placed fingers before she said a quick prayer and placed her right hand on his neck. 

Arnav let out a sharp gasp when the piping hot mixture hit his skin and Khushi’s hand tightened on his shoulder, ‘Thoda garam hai lekin isse zyada asar hoga..’ She tried to sound soothing but her voice was unsteady and she closed her eyes while she continued to massage his neck steadily, going by feel alone and she was happy when she felt the knotted muscles slowly start to relax under the warmth of her deft fingers. She heard him sigh and his whole body started to unwind from its earlier tension and she opened her eyes to see him tilting his head to the other side slowly, giving her better access to his neck and shoulder. 

Khushi could see from the side of his face that his eyes we’re closed and his lips were turned up in a small smile and she felt warmth spread through her at the sight as if there’d been an anxiousness inside her that she could now let go of. She continued to work on his neck, getting almost lost in the feel of him, her fingers firm and confident and she found she no longer felt as self conscious and everything was silent between them for a while. 

***

A little while later Khushi’s fingers scraped the bottom of the bowl and she realised she’d used everything up when she suddenly felt her arms go heavy as he leaned back into her, ‘Arnavji..?’ Her arms held his weight automatically and feeling startled, she looked down at his face, now resting on her shoulder and saw his eyes were closed and he was fast asleep. 

Khushi’s heart skipped a beat as she watched his completely relaxed, sleeping face closely. He looked young and surprisingly innocent, not a trace of the wound up, short-tempered man she was used to seeing. His long eyelashes fluttered and Khushi blinked and looked around, wondering what to do when he remained sleeping. She knew she should wake him, his neck was ok so he could go back outside; and she could go back to her plan of annoying the hell out of him… 

But another look at his face and she felt her resolve waver for a second and making her mind up, she held him up for a minute as she moved her legs from under her and tried to lay him back on a pillow. Somehow though, she let him go too fast and ended up falling with him and half on him; she froze, feeling her heart beating a mile a minute, with one arm still around him and one hand on his chest, her face millimetres from his, her breath stirring his eyelashes. 

How did these things always happen to her she thought wildly, feeling the air around her burning up, wanting to jump back but not wanting him to wake up and find her like this either. So she waited, making sure he was breathing evenly before she slowly eased her arm out from under him. He turned towards her on the pillow and remembering how he slept, Khushi thought fast and placed a cushion in his arms as he turned and she sighed in relief when he hugged it and carried on sleeping. 

She shuffled away quietly and sat back on the bed, surveying her handiwork as she bit one of her fingernails nervously, wondering if she’d done the right thing. It suddenly occured to her that here he was, the bane of her existence, resting peacefully and she was the one sitting awake; how had that happened again?! She sighed and crossed her legs, resting her chin on her hand as she watched him, unable to stop herself from melting at the sight or stop the soft smile from creeping across her face when few locks of hair fell across his forehead endearingly.

It’s fine, she told herself; however wicked he may be, it was ok to let him rest for a few hours – she could yell in his ear later to make up for it…

 

Bhool Na Jaana

Timeframe: Written in March 2012 – right after their bhaang-filled confession…

*******

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Part One

Something tickled his ear, causing his eyes to flutter open for an instant while his mind continued to float somewhere there was only peace and light and countless possibilities. Arnav blinked slowly and felt deliciously lazy as he stretched, feeling the warm softness in his arms stir and move with him. He sighed, letting the warmth spread through his whole body as he relaxed again and his eyes began to fall shut.

As he closed his eyes he felt the feather light touch again, this time whispering over his earlobe and sliding along his jaw line before it came to rest across his neck, radiating heat as it went. His eyes opened again and he looked down at the girl sleeping peacefully in his arms; she looked almost too angelic to be real – his wife; who maybe he’d misunderstood… or had never understood to begin with? ‘Aisa kyu hota hai Arnavji… bataye na?’

He was aware that he wasn’t thinking clearly although he didn’t really know why; his thoughts felt at times startlingly clear and yet somehow still fuzzy around the edges, making it hard for him to know what was real and what was imagined. But he knew she had said those words to him, he could still feel the tiny hope unfurling inside him while she innocently told him how his presence made her heart beat faster; how she had tried to forget but couldn’t. Just like him – how many times had he tried to clamp down on those feelings, pretend they never existed… to forget?

It all seemed pointless when he thought back on it now as her fingers stroked around his neck and found their way into his hair. Why would anyone ever want to forget this feeling he wondered with a sleepy smile, as his thoughts lost their clarity again and he turned slightly and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her close.

He saw her blink up sleepily for a second before she came to him with a shy smile, moulding her soft curves along the hard lines of his body, tucking her face into his neck while her hand travelled back down and curled itself into the open collar of his shirt.

Arnav sighed as he turned his face into her hair and closed his eyes, feeling completely unburdened for once as he gradually felt their heartbeats slow down. Khushi’s breathing had evened out and his sluggish brain wanted to join her in sleep but before he could fall into unconsciousness, an oddly persistent nagging feeling in the back of his mind pulled him back from the edge and he tried to make sense of it; he didn’t want to forget these moments – not this time, he had to remember…

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His mind gave him a picture of her, a memory to hold onto; she was looking into his eyes with hope and affection, holding his face with trembling fingers as if it was precious to her. The vague anxiousness slipped away as he kept that image in his mind and the feeling of wonder at her words stayed with him. He thought he felt her hand tighten its grip on his shirt as if she too was holding onto something but that fleeting thought was like a whisper and it disappeared into their dreams as he finally gave in and fell asleep with a soft smile still on his face.

***

Anjali stood outside the not quite closed doors, a hand outstretched but still in two minds. She’d knocked and called out but had got no reply and now she could see the doors weren’t fully shut and she wasn’t sure whether to go in or not. This was the only place she hadn’t looked but it was their bedroom and she didn’t want to barge in on anything. On the other hand the room was silent and she was curious so she pushed one of the doors open a little and peeked in, holding her breath and ready to duck her head back out in a second if needed.

What she saw didn’t make her avert her eyes but instead made her heart brim with warmth as a happy smile spread across her face.

They were lying on the bed fast asleep in each other’s arms, dressed as they had been with the covers tangled at their feet. She was supposed to call them downstairs but they looked so peaceful she didn’t have the heart to wake them and she thought her brother needed the time out; they both did after the way everything had happened.

She smiled to herself as she turned to leave, remembering the way Arnav had looked at Khushi earlier, the things he’d said; she brought out a softer side to him and she made him happy - that was all Anjali had ever wanted for him.

She was about to shut the doors but was a surprised when her eyes fell on a pillow thrown against the pool doors and a spare comforter and sheets strewn across the floor. She looked back at the bed curiously, wondering if they’d had a pillow fight before they’d fallen asleep and as she shut the doors quietly she couldn’t help but laugh when she got that image in her head; it wouldn’t surprise her one bit with the way they fought over every little thing!

She was still laughing to herself as she walked slowly down the hall and was surprised when her husband appeared seemingly from out of nowhere and asked if she’d found Khushi and Arnav. ‘Haan lekin woh neeche nahi ayenge – soh rahe hai dono!’ She shook her head indulgently and made to carry on when she realised Shyam was standing stock still. ‘Kya hua? Chal ye na,’ she frowned wondering why he looked so unhappy all of a sudden.

‘Ek saath?!’ Anjali’s frown deepened, not understanding and he continued, ‘Humara matlab hai ke itni jaldi? Kitna kaam pada hua hai…’ Anjali shook her head, ‘Aap bhi na! Bhaang ke nashe mein hai toh aankh lag gayi hogi, kaam karne ke liye hum sab hai na?!’

She put her arm through his and turned him around and he walked with her slowly. ‘Aap ko pata hai, kitne cute lag rahe the dono ek saath mein? Jitna ladte jagadte hai, unke beech utna pyaar bhi hai!’ Anjali laughed happily as they walked, lost in thoughts of her brothers’ countless smiles today, completely unaware of the way her husbands’ furious face burned at her words.

 

Part Two

‘Hai devi maiyya…’ Khushi groaned as she struggled to sit up and felt the room spin a little. She grabbed onto the thing closest to her and heard a yelp and then a muttered oath. Her eyes widened and she looked down to see the tanned arm she was digging her nails into before reluctantly turning back and raising her eyes to look into the smoky sleep-filled eyes of her extremely grumpy looking husband.

Arnav winced slightly and Khushi let go of his arm, before rubbing frantically at the red crescents her nails had created on his skin, muttering an apology while he gave her an incredulous look.

She felt the room spin again and rubbed her eyes wondering what had happened to them and it was only when she felt him shift that she realised they were nestled very comfortably under the covers and she was sitting up snugly against his stomach. She felt her eyes widen again as her heart sped up and her face went red but luckily he didn’t notice as he flipped onto his back and then sat up next to her, holding his head in his hands and groaning.

‘Aap bhi…?’ Khushi watched as he blinked at her looking annoyed and confused and she knew they were both in the same boat.

His cheeks were tinged with red and Khushi had a brain wave, ‘Holi hai!’ Her voice cut off when Arnav winced and covered one ear with his hand, ‘Humara matlab hai ke holi hai toh hum ne shayad bhaang..’ But Arnav cut her off with an angry, ‘Main bhaang nahi pee tha!’ which had Khushi rolling her eyes.

‘Haan haan, aap bhaang nahi pee the…’ she touched his cheek with her index finger and inspected the red fingertip before holding it up as evidence, ‘aur aap holi bhi nahi khel the…’ she looked down and stifled a laugh, ‘aur aap joothe pehen kar nahi soh the..!’

She wondered if she was still high because suddenly instead of being scared by his thunderous face she felt like messing up his hair even more and hugging him. She felt happy and she didn’t really know why. She looked down at her finger which was still red and suddenly had a flash of memory – had she put this colour on his cheeks?! And had he..? She touched her cheek surreptitiously, trying not to draw his attention but it came away clean and yet she swore she could feel the ghost of his fingers gliding across them…

Her happy mood started to wear off and she felt an odd fluttery nervousness creep into the pit of her stomach as her heart continued to pound.

She looked up and saw him staring into space with his brow furrowed in concentration and she was almost in a trance as she reached across to touch his face, resting her fingers lightly on his cheek. She suddenly realised she was mirroring what she was seeing in her mind and when he turned to look at her with a slightly stunned expression she pulled her hand back as if it’d got burnt. Other memories came back then, in uncoordinated bursts and flashes – all equally as confusing as they were beautiful…

‘Khushi?’ He was frowning at her again but then suddenly his eyes cleared a little and she felt her breath come out faster and faster as she tried to move away, not knowing why and only getting more tangled in the covers.

Arnav sighed and leaned across, pulling the comforter and freeing her legs from the covers. Their eyes met as he reached over her and he looked at her searchingly again and Khushi felt her heart thud as she moved away, almost making it off the bed before she felt his hand close around her wrist, ‘Kya yaad hai tumhe Khushi?’

***

His head was throbbing and it felt like his brain was stuffed with cotton wool. She had done this to him he thought, glaring at her while she tried unsuccessfully not to laugh. She had done this to him and now she was laughing! He clearly remembered her tricking him into drinking the stuff but after that it all went hazy.

He rubbed his eyes as he looked around the room slowly; what had he done?! It was morning and they were in bed but fully clothed, her poolside bedclothes were all over the floor and he could only vaguely remember waking up once during the night and then falling back asleep. He’d been happy though, he knew that much, he’d felt free…

Suddenly he felt Khushi’s fingers on his cheek and he turned to look at her and as if in a dream he saw another time when both her hands held his face and the memory sliced through him, clear as day. She pulled her hand back, looking shocked at herself but the damage was done and as Arnav began to piece together the events that had led up to them falling asleep, his heart started to pound louder than his head.

‘Khushi?’ the memories were overwhelming him and he looked at her, wondering if she was feeling the same but instead of answering, she looked panicked and tried to scramble off the bed. He helped her automatically before holding her back, asking her softly what she remembered; was it just him or had he dreamt it? And what did it mean?

He tugged on her wrist again, ‘Khushi?! What do you remember?’ She turned to look at him with wide eyes and he suddenly remembered sitting next to her by the pool, holding her close while she’d looked up at him and smiled dreamily… Arnav blinked, trying to stay in the moment as the memories got stronger. ‘Kuch nahi… woh, pata nahi, humme kuch samaj mein nahi aa raha…’

He let go of her wrist when she twisted her arm, wondering why he felt this crushing disappointment. She didn’t remember… but that was for the best right? His gradually clearing brain was telling him that people said and did crazy things under the influence; that didn’t make it real. And if she didn’t even remember then maybe it wasn’t as important to her.

‘Aap ne humare sawaal ka jawaab nahi diya Arnavji…’ Her voice from the night before rang in his head as he watched her walk a little unsteadily to the wardrobe and pull out some clothes. Her each admission and even her questions had rung with truth and it had felt more real than anything; even now he could see the soft smile that lit up her face when he’d scooped her up and carried her to the bed.

She’d argued childishly, saying she wasn’t meant to sleep on the bed, her husband would shout and say ‘what the…’ and he’d laughed at her as he threw her comforter away, refusing to let her go anywhere – telling her she belonged with him. They’d fallen asleep still arguing vaguely about nothing and the last thing he remembered was her placing a hand over his heart and repeating his words to herself reassuringly before drifting off.

Arnav blinked again and came back to the present and saw that Khushi was watching him silently from the bathroom door, her eyes uncertain and cloudy with questions. He knew he needed to find out what it meant; whether it even meant anything. Had he somehow got things wrong from the beginning or had just been the high that had made her innocence shine through…

‘Humari dadkane ek ho jaate hai…’ he heard her whispered words again and felt something twisting his insides; did she really not remember? As he watched her enter the bathroom and shut the door behind her, the thought that stayed with him was that he’d been given a tantalising glimpse of how things could be between them in a less messed up world and he didn’t know what to do with that knowledge. On one hand it was pointless because it didn’t matter if she didn’t remember any of it but at the same time, he wasn’t about to let it go if there was even a shred of hope that they could have that for real…

 

Mere Rang Mein…

Timeframe: March 2012 – Holi hai..! Written before their holi and their ‘dhakane ek’ convo had been aired, enjoy!

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Part One

She was looking radiant in white… the simplest of white suits only enhancing her beauty and the barely there sleeves complete with silly pom poms drew his attention as soon as he laid eyes on her.

She was standing by one of the wide pillars just off the living area; he guessed she was directing OP on how to hang some decorations by the way she was waving her arms around looking more and more exasperated by the second. His eyes narrowed and he tilted his head slightly as he considered her; it wasn’t so much the sleeves as the creamy smooth skin of her arms that held his gaze as he watched her.

He put down the now empty glass of milk NK had given him a little while ago saying it was from Anjali and shook his head, feeling a little light headed and strange as his eyes flicked slowly over the living space, taking in the occupants talking animatedly over some Holi supplies.

He looked over at Khushi and everything came into focus again just as he spied some open colour heaped neatly and helpfully on a tray nearby and a wicked smile flashed across his lips. All thoughts of his pre-meet with Akash were forgotten as he dipped his fingers in the bright colour, making sure he had plenty on both hands. Red, he thought still smirking. Perfect…

***

Khushi sighed, feeling a little frustrated; she wished she could just get up on the stool and hang the decorations up herself because OP was hopeless but Anjali had told her to ask him to do it and Khushi didn’t want to rock the tentative peace they had between them so she was resigned to watching him.

‘Nahi OPji, aise nahi- !’ Khushi’s words ended in a low shriek as she suddenly felt two very familiar hands on her upper arms, right where her short sleeves ended. She held her breath but she couldn’t stop the sparks that shot through her while he ran his hands down her arms slowly, letting his fingers rest on her wrists lightly.
 
‘Arnavji..?! Yeh aap kya..?’ The unsteady whisper died on her lips when she looked down at her tingling arms and noticed the bright red streaks of colour he’d marked her with and she gasped, ‘Yeh aap ne kya kiya..?! Kissi ne humme aise dhek liya toh kya sochenge..’

She struggled to turn around, knowing her face was probably as bright as the colour on her arms but he held her firmly and leaned in to whisper into her left ear. Khushi tried to keep her eyes open, tried to ignore the way he was holding her too close, tried not to lean back onto his chest when his fingers retraced their steps back up her arm but she failed miserably on all counts while her brain drowsily translated what he was whispering into her ear, ‘That’s the whole point…’
 
Arnav smiled slowly against Khushi’s ear, happy that he could justify his actions but suddenly not really too bothered about it; his worries seemed pointless and far away right now and he was enjoying watching her squirm too much – not to mention the feeling… ‘Om Prakashji?!’ Khushi’s outraged whisper cut into his thoughts and he blinked in confusion till she continued in a scandalised voice, ‘Aap yeh sab OPji ko dikhane ke liye kar rahe hai?!’ Arnav rolled his eyes and sighed, ‘Shut up Khushi!’
 
‘Om Prakash!’ Khushi made a face and felt a pang of sympathy when Arnav barked his name and OP almost fell off the stool.

OP’s eyes widened when he saw the two of them standing so close and Khushi tried to elbow Arnav in order to move away but he was rock solid and she barely moved an inch. He reeled out a few random orders which sent OP scrambling away and then she wished she’d been paying more attention because in less than two seconds he’d spun her around and pushed her back against the pillar, leaving her breathless and disorientated.
 
Arnav looked down into his wife’s shocked eyes, which were now the colour of warm honey and so deep they could easily drown a man… he blinked slowly again wondering what had come over him and forced himself to look away after a few seconds but got distracted again when he spotted another helpfully laid out tray placed on a table next to the pillar. He felt a fresh smirk threaten to take over his face as he leaned his right arm around Khushi to dip a finger in each colour on the tray, his eyes never leaving her stunned face.
 
He lifted his left hand from her arm and stroked his fingers across her smooth cheek adding a fiery red smudge to her natural blush, turning her face towards where he knew Anjali was seated with Mami and Payal; all pairs of eyes focused on them. Her eyes looked like they would fall out of her head and she spluttered a few unintelligible words while he used that time to let his fingers have free reign over her face, enjoying her each and every reaction as they glided over her nose, across her cheekbones and brushed over her trembling lips.

‘Dhekiye – aap – yeh sab – hum-’ Khushi kept trying to speak but in between each word Arnav would touch a different part of her face, making her forget everything and lose any intelligent thought while her face continued to burn with heat wherever his fingers had touched her. Her eyes moved again to where she knew everyone was probably watching and her face heated up further at what they must be thinking.

Arnav tilted his head and was apparently admiring his handiwork with smouldering eyes and a lazy smile when Khushi decided she’d had enough – she was Khushi Kumari Gupta and she refused to be smirked at by some self satisfied Laad Governor!
 
Arnav saw Khushi’s eyes flash and he had the sudden urge to push her further back against the pillar and let his lips follow the same path his fingers had taken a few seconds ago. He blinked, confused by his hazy thoughts but he was already moving forward when Khushi suddenly reached up and ran a couple of fingers down the bridge of his nose, causing him to step back in surprise.

He looked down and saw her fingers covered in blue and his eyes widened as she held up a handful of blue colour threateningly, a mischievous sparkle in her eyes that he hadn’t seen in a long time. ‘Don’t you dare Khushi Kumari Gupta…’
 
Khushi ignored Arnav’s low warning and keeping her eyes locked on his, she very slowly and very deliberately brushed the blue colour she’d sneaked off the tray onto first one cheek and then the other, before reaching up and fixing the open collar of his white shirt, smoothing down his black waistcoat, smearing everything in blue…

She held her breath, waiting for the explosion and felt a shudder of both fear and excitement run through her when his eyes darkened and he grabbed her wrist, pushing her back against the pillar again, ‘Tumhari himmat…’

Khushi widened her eyes and shook her head minutely; cutting him off before he could even start and his eyes narrowed when she rolled hers over to where their actions were still being watched by open mouthed members of their family. She tried not to let the bubble of laughter escape when she saw him frown and then grit his teeth in frustration but she couldn’t hide the twinkle in her eye and suddenly her mouth went dry when she saw an almost wild look come into his eyes, ‘D-dhekiye aap aisa kuch…’

This time he was the one to cut her off and Khushi was left speechless when he dipped his head quickly and rubbed his cheek against hers, nuzzling her ear with his lips while his hand buried itself in her open hair. She somehow managed to slip her wrist out of his hand and pushed against him when he didn’t stop; all thoughts of the family forgotten as she tried to contain the havoc that both his lips and the feel of his rough stubble were creating on her senses.

 

Part Two

Khushi didn’t know when she’d stopped struggling and given in to the madness but a little while later she realised he’d stopped and they were just standing with their cheeks resting against each other in a loose hug. She was lost, breathing him in and completely surrounded by him; his warm breath ruffled her open hair soothingly and they might have stayed like that for a while except they both heard a loud crash behind him.

Arnav pulled away a little at the noise, trying to focus but his brain was still cloudy and she was all he could seem to think about. He didn’t know what had come over him but he’d seen that challenging glint in her eyes and hadn’t been able to stop – even now he just wanted to pick her up and take her somewhere they could be alone without any stupid distractions…

He looked down and saw her eyes had been closed but now were blinking up at him dazedly and the hands that had been pushing him were still gripping his shirt tightly. She followed his eyes and quickly let go before looking around him to see what had caused the noise. He turned too and then froze when he saw Shyam standing there, covered in green dust from the tray of colour that had recently fallen from his hand.

***

Arnav felt an almost savage thrill run through him as the man in front of them took in their dishevelled state and the colour that they were both covered in and he smiled when he saw the clenched fists and red eyes.

He felt the haze clear a little but the heady rush was still there as he spoke in a low and lazy voice, ‘Dhyan se Jijaji, yeh green rang aap ko suit kar tha hai but you don’t wanna drown in it…’ He smirked into Shyam’s speechless face and noticed Khushi trying to slip away but his hand shot out, gripping her wrist and pulling her to his side unsteadily. He put an arm around her to steady her, sliding his hand over her slim waist as he looked down at her, getting caught in her eyes again when she stared at him, wide-eyed.

Most of her face was covered in different colours – her nose was lined with yellow and there was a hot pink streak across her left cheek but almost her whole right cheek and ear were now bright purple where the blue on his face had mixed with the red on hers and he knew he must have a matching purple smudge across his face too. He reached up and fixed her hair which had fallen forward when he’d pulled her to him, lining it with more red in the process and feeling an odd tenderness as she watched him searchingly.

They were still looking at each other when Arnav heard a noise and looked up, surprised when he realised he’d somehow forgotten that his brother-in-law was still there. He watched his reaction at seeing them together, feeling oddly detached as he took in the furious expression but then he pulled Khushi closer, stroking her waist slowly in an unconsciously comforting gesture when he saw those eyes flit across her features. He felt an irrationally strong stab of protectiveness when he felt Khushi’s other arm slide around his back, holding onto his side but anything he’d been about to say was halted by the arrival of Akash.

‘Bhai, I thought we had a meeting? Oh…!’ Akash’s eyes widened as he took in his normally no-nonsense no-fun black and white brother’s appearance. His face and clothes were covered in bright blue’s and purple’s and Akash had to hold back a sudden laugh when he noticed Khushi glued to his side, also covered in colour but looking like she wanted to disappear, her face now half hidden behind Arnav. ‘Umm actually, we can have the meeting this afternoon if you’d prefer that..?’

He watched in amazement as Arnav shrugged, not looking the least bit bothered or embarrassed, ‘Sure Akash, this afternoon’s fine.’

Akash nodded and was about to leave when he had a sudden enlightening thought and he couldn’t resist asking, ‘Bhai, kuch dher pehle aap ko NK bhai doond rahe the… with something to drink?’ He smiled when Arnav confirmed that NK had found him and Akash took in his slightly unfocused eyes and too relaxed posture and nodded again as he muttered to himself still grinning, ‘Phir toh meeting cancelled…’ 

***

Khushi had hidden her face in Arnav’s side, wishing the ground would swallow her up as Akash left. A few seconds later she realised what she was doing and she detached herself from Arnav with some difficulty and looked around, wondering what had gotten into him and noticing that Shyam had also disappeared. She looked up at him and folded her arms indignantly, trying to sound firm but speaking in a shaky whisper because she could see NK had joined Anjali by the sofa’s and they were pointing towards them, looking like they were headed their way any minute, ‘Aap ko aaj ho kya gaya hai?!’

She watched as Arnav gave her an almost puzzled look, as if he was trying to figure out what was going on himself but Khushi didn’t let his innocent expression get to her as she waited for an explanation; things had been confusing enough for her lately without his lightning fast mood swings… and she could still feel the ghost of his hand moving around her waist and across her stomach, making her knees weak…

Arnav’s eyes had narrowed as he watched her and he suddenly moved from his frozen position, startling her when he pushed his fingers through her hair, cradling the back of her head, tilting it and looking down into her eyes for a second, making her feel dizzy as he spoke in a husky voice, ‘Kyu… aisa kya kiya maine?’

He ran a few fingers over her cheek and they came away the same shade of purple as one side of his face and lips. Khushi watched as he stared at his fingers for a second before looking into her eyes again and she felt her heart miss a beat when his eyes slowly darkened into pools of melted chocolate.

She felt a shudder run through her as he stroked her lower lip with his thumb, coating it in purple fire and his rough whisper left her weak-kneed and trembling again, ‘Mere rang mein hi toh rang na hai tumhe Khushi Kumari Gupta…’

For a moment time stood still as they looked into each other’s eyes, everything else forgotten until their family reached them and Khushi saw her disappointment mirrored in Arnav’s eyes before she watched him slip away while they told her off teasingly for ‘starting Holi’ without them. She heard NK say something about bhang never failing but she didn’t connect it as she continued to watch Arnav’s retreating back till he turned by the stairs and gave her a long, unreadable look.

She brought her hand up to her face, her fingertips tracing her tingling lips unconsciously, still held by his voice and his eyes glittered as they followed the movement of her fingers before he blinked slowly and turned away again, leaving Khushi shaky while his low words rang in her ears, ‘mere rang mein hi toh rang na hai…’ Her stomach did a nervous flip as she remembered the utter belief with which he said those words, his eyes burning into hers; he’d marked her as his in more ways than one and and while the rest of them began celebrating, she had a feeling that her Holi had barely started.

 

Misguided Truths

Timeframe: Written late February 2012, during the earlier weeks of Arnav & Khushi’s contract marriage.

*******

Part One – ‘Whispers in the Dark’

‘What the fuck?!’ The house was empty so Arnav felt no hesitation in letting out his full frustration as his room was suddenly plunged into complete darkness.

Everything was going wrong and even the smallest thing jarred his already bruised nerve endings. He was barely holding it together and today he felt ready to explode – damn those clients for being so bloody difficult about everything and them needing to hold an emergency meeting at such late notice; damn the thing for over-running for hours and damn the stupid lights for going out right when he needed them!

He let out an angry breath and fumbled for a moment in the dark with the tie he’d been trying unsuccessfully to knot before the lights had gone; at last glance it had been in a loose half-knot and now he gave up and unbuttoned the top two buttons of his black shirt as well, leaving the grey tie as it was. He didn’t have enough time anyway so he might as well be comfortable physically, even if he was losing it in every other sense. He took a side-step till his left foot hit the low bedside table and he felt around till he found his car keys and made his way out of the room in the dark.

He’d only come home to drop off some files but Anjali had already called him half a dozen times from the function they were all attending to see where he was and to say people were asking why he wasn’t there… As if I give a damn what they’re thinking, he thought darkly as he moved through the house slowly, knowing he was late but wishing he could avoid it altogether. He was in a foul mood and couldn’t wait for this hellishly long day to be over - although he knew the night would be worse because inevitably, they always were.

‘Why don’t you think about why you’re really so angry all the time..?’ The voice in his head was dejected and broken, a mere whisper of what it had once been. But he hadn’t been able to silence it completely and it kept needling away at him, making him feel guilty for all the hurts he’d caused and continued to cause her.

‘Think about it again…you know her… Would she do something like that..?’ But along with the words came the fragments of piercing memory that seemed to somehow get clearer with time and unerringly surfaced whenever his resolve faltered or if he allowed himself a moment to breathe freely.

He felt his stomach knot and he shook his head bitterly, refusing to listen to the hopeless voice of his conscience, biting down hard on it. He knew what he’d seen and telling himself to think about it differently was foolish and only made way for more disappointment. It wouldn’t change anything no matter how much he wished it; it was right there in front of his eyes… He tried to push the images away as he turned a corner carelessly and knocked his shoulder on a pillar. He closed his eyes pointlessly in the dark and swore again as a dull ache went through his upper arm but it wasn’t enough to knock the vivid images out of his mind.

Arnav stopped walking abruptly and clenched his hands into fists, taking in a deep breath, willing his mind to go blank as he made his way more cautiously towards the front hall. He thought instead about his day and the grim evening ahead and sighed; he shouldn’t really be surprised at how badly today was going because it was only following the same nightmarish tone as every day this past month had.

Ever since that night… the night he’d got married in such a furious rage, the night he’d seen the girl he’d so foolishly fallen in love with in the arms of his lying, cheating brother in law. Ever since that night everything in his life had gone to hell.

***

‘Chotte.. hum teek hai, humme koi bimari nahi hui hai!’ Arnav ignored Anjali as he led her to one of the sofa’s of the still dark house later that night. The family all came in behind them and he heard Mamaji say something jokingly about letting her husband look after her. Arnav’s fingers unconsciously tightened on Anjali’s shoulders at the mere mention of the man and he had to apologise to her when she winced slightly. It made his skin crawl to have to see her with that pathetic excuse every single day. He’d said he would give him a chance but as the days turned into weeks and he got to know his enemy better, he’d begun to realise it was a lost cause.

‘Nahi Jijaji, aap log yahi rukiye, hum dekh kar aate hai ke light ko kya hua!’ Arnav came back to the present and looked up at the sound of his wife’s voice. His brain registered the fact that she sounded brighter than he’d heard her in weeks but still not back to her normal self. And she was volunteering to help as usual. He watched her glittery form disappear into the darkness and wondered, not for the first time, what to make of her behaviour since he’d blackmailed her into marrying him.

She never complained to anyone; whatever he did, however many fiery battles raged on in the bedroom, however cold he was with her, when it came to the rest of the family, she remained the same as she always had, if a little subdued. Over the past month or so he’d watched her, slowly but surely and in her own way, turn Nani and Anjali around; he’d felt the atmosphere in the house lighten considerably as the days went by and somehow knew it was down to her.

He told himself repeatedly that it was all an act but that never stopped the churning mess of emotions he felt when he lay down to sleep at night. He’d seen her true face, heard her speak about his sisters ruined marriage like it was nothing and yet she still managed to get under his skin when she looked at him with those confused eyes; turning the tables, making him feel like he was the one in the wrong and he hated it.

Arnav heard NK make a comment about whether this meant he would have to leave for Australia in the dark when the time came and while the family laughed his eyes did a quick scan to find Shyam was also missing…

His lip curled in disgust and his hands clenched in fury as he guessed where he was and without another word he headed towards where the fuse box was, cutting across the poolside to get there quicker. The faint light coming from the pool made it easy for him to see that for now at least, Khushi was alone and standing on a low stool while she examined the open box in front of her.

She was dressed in a shimmery midnight blue saree and he’d noticed irritably that she’d been getting compliments all night. Right now though, she was holding a lit candle up to the open fuse box and for a few moments, Arnav was transported back to a simpler time when he’d been standing in the same spot, watching her face in the flickering candle-light while Lavanya fixed the fuse. Then Khushi had been looking right at him but tonight she was unaware of both him and the dark shadow he could now just make out on her right.

Arnav felt something fierce and bloodthirsty rise up inside him at the sight and he closed the distance between the two of them swiftly, demanding her attention and ignoring the sickening man still standing in the shadows.

‘Khushi..!’ He saw her jerk and freeze for a few seconds before turning to look at him, startled, and despite everything he told himself he no longer felt for her, he still hated the wary, deer trapped in headlights look that entered her eyes as soon as she saw it was him standing there. ‘Aap..?!’

 

Part Two – ‘Flickers of Hope’

Khushi was stunned to hear her name spoken so urgently by that voice; he so rarely said her name in any tone other than cold anger when they were alone these days and it was a painful reminder of better times when she heard it now.

She turned to see Arnav standing just a mere foot away from her, giving her a piercing but unreadable look and she braced herself, waiting for the words that would cut fresh wounds into her already bruised heart. ‘Aap..?’ She wondered what he would say and why he had gone out of his way to find her – he usually tried to stay as far away from her as he could

The thought saddened her. She knew she should hate him; he’d effectively imprisoned her here for reasons still unknown to her, in a marriage that she knew he was just as unhappy about as she was. But she couldn’t seem to hate him however much she tried, despite her anger at how he’d been acting. It made her mad when she thought about what he was doing, not only to her but to himself, and for what? She’d had so many hopes and dreams about this phase of her life and then slowly, little by little, he had made her think she could share those dreams; only to have them all crushed with one bewilderingly painful ultimatum.

‘Haan main… Kyu? Kissi aur ka intezaar tha?’ Khushi blinked at his choice of words and frowned in confusion when she heard the unmistakeable edge to his voice. ‘Kissi aur ka..? Nahi, hum toh bas yeh…’ she gestured to the open fuse box but words failed her when he suddenly moved closer to her and reached up to take the candle from her hand. Except he didn’t take it, he simply placed his fingers around hers and held the candle with her while looking up into her eyes, reminding her of a bittersweet memory from their intertwined past, his eyes a softer shade of brown than she was accustomed to these days but still somehow managing to burn her with their concentration.

She hadn’t been this close to him in weeks but she still felt her whole body react to him almost instantly; her heart starting its mad dash to an unknown finish, her face heating up under his gaze even in the semi-darkness, her breath catching in her throat and her eyes widening in confusion.

‘Arnavji yeh aap..?’ She didn’t know what to think; in the month since they’d been married he’d made no move to come close to her unless it was to make some painful point or when they were in public and he was forced to. He’d been cold and bitter towards her and actively avoided being near her or even looking at her when they were alone; yet now they were so close she could easily lean down and kiss his forehead… if she had a death wish.

Suddenly Arnav blinked and looked a little to her right for a fraction of a second and she saw a flash of anger in his eyes before it was gone and he shocked her further by reaching up with his free hand. He ran his fingers across her wrist and then took her hand in his slowly, causing sparks to shoot up her arm and her head to spin.

‘Come down from there Khushi,’ he spoke roughly, his voice breaking slightly on her name. His voice was so low that it was almost a whisper and Khushi felt her heart wrench at the sound of her name, falling off his lips so softly after so long. He tugged on her hand and she stepped off the stool wordlessly.

She couldn’t look away from his eyes; they held her captive, the flickering candle-light making them look like they were burning with an inner flame and she was still lost as she lowered herself to the ground and stumbled on the hem of her saree. She felt his arm go around her almost instantly and felt his heartbeat against hers as she fell into him and closed her eyes on impact, resting her cheek on his chest.

She stayed there for a few long seconds, wondering how the same person who’d caused her so much pain over the past few weeks could also make her ache in a way so that she never wanted to move away from him.

Khushi could feel Arnav holding his breath as her body hit his and after a timeless moment she felt him slide his hand along her back and into her open hair slowly, causing her drag in a breath and shiver against him when his fingers stroked the back of her neck. She sighed as he seemed to give in to something and rest his head in the curve of her neck, her legs feeling like jelly when he took in a shuddering breath. His lips brushed over her ear in a feather-light touch which made her shudder, she felt like she was coming apart and had to hold on to his shoulder for support.

A moment or two later Khushi heard a noise behind her and she felt Arnav freeze again, his face still buried in her hair. They were both still holding the candle and she felt his grip on her hand tighten a little before she felt him take a slow breath and move away from her, blinking down at her wordlessly in the candle-light. The flickering light threw dark shadows across his face but she thought she could make out disappointment and an odd flash of guilt in his eyes before it was replaced by something she couldn’t read.

He stepped away, letting go of the candle, moving around her before fiddling with the fuse box till everything around them lit up and she turned to watch him questioningly. She blinked and let her eyes adjust to the sudden light as he closed the box and stood still for a minute, fighting an inner battle she didn’t understand.

Her head still felt fuzzy and she looked confusedly to where she’d heard the noise earlier but there was nothing there; she thought she’d imagined it but then noticed Arnav looking towards the empty space too, his hands clenched by his sides. She opened her mouth to question him, feeling disorientated by his behaviour but she was shaken when he suddenly frowned at her and blew out the candle she was still holding before giving her one last unreadable look and turning on his heel, walking away.

Khushi looked down at the still smoking candle in her hand, feeling bewildered and hurt; she had no idea why he’d held her like that and then just walked away. It made no sense and again Khushi had that underlying feeling that there was something she was missing in all of this. She didn’t know what was happening, she didn’t understand any of it but now she wondered if despite everything he said, maybe all those feelings she’d thought had disappeared were still there between them, under the surface, flickering and burning in the darkness like the candle they’d both been holding moments ago.

***

Arnav paced the corridor angrily, running his hands through his hair in frustration. He hated what he was doing, what he was becoming; he’d somehow begun to hate himself more than he hated her.

He’d sworn to himself not to get close to her again; he didn’t even let himself look at her, limiting his exposure to her presence and her occasional smile to times when there were plenty of people around to justify it. And yet one glimpse of the man standing in the shadows behind her had lit something so fierce inside him that he’d thrown aside all caution and given in to the ever present need for her which he hated himself for still feeling.

He felt torn; a cold, calculating part of him thought that this was the point – to make Shyam and everyone else think he and Khushi were together in every sense of the word. And yet another part felt guilty as hell when he thought of the hurt that’d flashed across her face when he’d belatedly realised what he was doing. He’d somehow only just moved away from her, putting his indifferent mask back on with difficulty.

‘But she responded…’ the whispered voice in his mind made him stop in his tracks as he made his way back to his room. She had responded, turned her face into his neck, clutched his shoulder; gasped breathlessly when his fingers had slid across her back to her neck… he shook his head at the images and the sensations that came with them, wondering how a few stolen moments could unsettle him so badly. He was still fighting it when he was startled to hear her slightly raised voice coming from around the corner, outside their room.

‘Aap ko woh sab se kya matlab? Aap waha kya kar rahe the?!’ Arnav froze and waited but he couldn’t hear the low response of whoever she was talking to. ‘Hum ne kaha na humse door rahiye!’ He felt an icy stab of anxiousness in the pit of his stomach; he’d decided to wait a little longer but something in her voice caused him to abandon all rational thought and go skidding round the corner, only to come face to face with one of his darkest nightmares.

Except there’s something wrong with this picture, his brain told him insistently while his heart burned; in his nightmares they were never so far apart.

She had her back to him and as she took a step away from Shyam’s outstretched arm, he looked up, noticing Arnav and smug look on his face made him see red. He strode forward, fully intending to beat the smugness out of him but Khushi chose that moment to spin around and he had to brace himself; expecting fear and guilt, both of which would eat away at his heart even as it sickened him. His eyes searched her face quickly, taking in every line and every curve and he was shocked to see nothing but relief written all over her features at the sight of him.

‘Khushi?’ His surprise caused her name to fall off his lips without him wanting it to and with another jolt he saw her move towards him as he spoke, almost instinctively and with a flicker of hope in her eyes, only to hesitate a second later, looking lost while her fingers continued to wring the soft material of her saree.

Without knowing exactly why and with his anger forgotten for a split second, he held out a hand and watched with an almost detached fascination as she came to him willingly and stood by his side. He felt something inside him give as she took his arm, her fingers sliding tentatively around his wrist and staying there while he stood frozen in place.

He had no idea what had just happened so silently between them but his heart was pounding. He fought to keep his face as neutral as he could but there was no mistaking the ice in his voice when he spoke, ‘Kya baat hai Jijaji…’ he emphasised the last word before continuing in a measured voice, ‘Khushi itni pareshan kyu hai?’

Arnav watched, trying to assess the situation without losing it, preparing himself for some sort of mental blow as Shyam stepped forward boldly and reached into the pocket of his kurta with a self satisfied smirk.

He held out a piece of jewellery triumphantly, ‘Kuch nahi Saale Saab, bas Khushiji ki payal humare paas reh gayi… humara matlab hai humare kamre mein mili thi…’ Arnav felt like someone had punched him in the gut at what his words implied and he barely heard the rest of whatever he said through the white hot rage and the sound of blood rushing through his ears as he tried to control himself from ripping that smile apart.

He suddenly felt Khushi’s fingers squeeze his wrist as if she sensed he was about to lose it and he somehow resisted the urge to fling her away from him, feeling disgusted that seconds ago he had been moved by the relieved and almost trusting look she’d given him.

He focused his gaze on the offending piece of jewellery for a split second; it was still dangling from Shyam’s hand and as he looked at it, suddenly everything else seemed to disappear. Time stood perfectly still in that instant and there was only one clear thought in Arnav’s mind. He was lying.

 

Part Three – ‘Nightmares Revisited’

A strange calm had settled over Arnav as he watched Shyam lie through his teeth, saying the anklet was neither Anjali’s nor Payal’s and so it must be Khushi’s. He looked down to see Khushi frowning at the anklet still hanging from Shyam’s hand and he knew he was right.

She opened her mouth to protest but Arnav beat her to it, shrugging lightly and speaking in a deceptively soft voice, ‘Actually Jijaji… Khushi ne kuch dino se payal pehni hi nahi…’ He let those words sink in before continuing, ‘and anyway, woh sirf apni maa ki di hui payal pehn thi hai,’ He watched Shyam’s face heat up and twitch in confusion and in the back of his mind he noted that Shyam hadn’t been aware of that fact. Arnav raised an eye brow while pointing at the anklet with his free hand, ‘and that’s definitely not one of them.’

His words were met with silence and he felt Khushi grip his arm a little more firmly before speaking, ‘Haan Shyamji, yeh humari payal nahi hai.’ her voice was steady and had a final ring to it as she turned towards their door and met his eyes for a second. He wanted desperately to search those eyes, to see into her mind because he still wasn’t really sure why he was trusting her this time but for now he needed to focus. He slid his arm out of her grasp and stepped forward, putting himself between them before taking her hand and pulling her into their room, shutting the doors in Shyam’s crimson face.

Arnav turned around and resisted the urge to lean back against the doors because Khushi was watching him with a curious and determined look on her face. He wondered with a little dread of this was going to be one of those nights where she poked at his shaky defences, demanding explanations and answers; igniting a blazing row which inevitably ended with her tears and his seething frustration.

He head felt muddled by what had just happened, he didn’t know what he’d say if she pushed it but she didn’t and instead her question actually left him flustered, ‘Aap ko kaise pata tha ke humne kuch dino se payal nahi pehni..?’

Why did she have to ask the most awkward questions in such a forthright way?! She didn’t question why he’d recognised it as not being hers which is what a normal person might do; she went straight for the question that would pain him most to answer. There was no way he was telling her a truth which he felt ashamed to admit even to himself; how the sound of her anklets distracted him to the point of madness and he’d know them anywhere. And how as soon as he’d recognised that it wasn’t hers he’d also realised he hadn’t heard their tinkling sound at all lately.

Khushi was still waiting, standing in the centre of the room, regarding him strangely as all these thought flashed through his mind. He ignored her expression as he walked to the wardrobe and took out a top to change into, affecting a nonchalant expression while she continued to wait undeterred.

He didn’t bother looking to see what her reaction was as he quickly unbuttoned his waistcoat and shirt before pulling on the red top. He needed to be alone to sort out the mess his head was in so when she repeated the question he turned to look at her while he shrugged, drawling in a bored and deliberately infuriating voice, ‘Lucky guess…’ He saw anger flare up in her eyes at his couldn’t give a damn attitude and breathed a sigh of relief when she snatched up some clothes and headed for the bathroom.

***

Arnav turned onto his back a little uncomfortably and stared up at the shadowy ceiling, wide awake, his mind whirring. He’d silently taken the recliner tonight leaving her to decide between the bed and the poolside, telling himself that wasn’t relief he felt when she picked the bed. Since the first few turbulent nights filled with fiery arguments and mute accusations, they’d somehow reached an unspoken stand-off on sleeping arrangements.

One morning he’d woken up outside realising he was soaked to the skin from a heavy rain shower and she’d lost it spectacularly when she laid eyes on him, saying she’d had enough; this was ridiculous even for him and she was going to tell Anjali to sort him out. He’d ignored her, angering her further as he walked away coldly after biting out that she wouldn’t dare do anything of the sort. But that night he’d taken the bed and left the spare duvet on the recliner while it continued to pour outside and she’d accepted the unspoken gesture simply and without fuss. Since then they’d alternated every so often, neither mentioning it even when they argued but neither choosing to sleep outside again either.

Arnav sighed and shut his eyes, willing sleep to come but his mind refused to switch off after what had just happened. He’d wondered all along if giving Shyam a second chance had been pointless but tonight he’d confirmed it for him; the fact that he’d so openly tried to insinuate that he was still somehow involved with Khushi made Arnav’s stomach roll and that was it as far as he was concerned. He would get him out of their lives once and for all but Anjali’s pregnancy was already proving difficult and complicated enough, he needed to figure things out coolly… he could tear him limb from limb later.

‘And what about Khushi..?’ He shifted restlessly as the quiet voice prodded him again and he frowned to himself in the dark. Her behaviour had thrown him completely, in fact now that he thought about it, the whole atmosphere when he’d turned corner had been off somehow… not at all what he’d been expecting. He felt a little off-balance, like there was something he was missing…

He heard Khushi mutter something in her sleep and sat up, still feeling too conflicted to attempt sleep.

He’d unwillingly learnt a lot of things about Khushi since they’d started sharing a room – like the fact that she often muttered things in her sleep; he’d heard his own name more than a few times, as well as ‘Rakshas’ and her favourite, ‘Laad Governor’. He knew she liked to water his plants when she thought he wouldn’t notice and had once hidden one behind the furniture after Lakshmi ate it. He knew she always pinned her hair up before going to take a shower and came out with it open , dripping water over everything… he knew she only wore her mother’s anklets.

It was such a small thing; he didn’t know why it was bugging him so much above everything else. So what if Shyam didn’t know about it? Maybe it hadn’t come up, maybe they’d been busy with other things… he felt his teeth grind and he pushed down on the rising anger, till the red mist cleared and allowed his brain to start functioning again. He forced himself to lie back down on the recliner, pulling the blanket around him to distract himself; he was being foolish, clutching at straws because he wanted it to mean something when really it was all meaningless.

He closed his eyes, trying to ignore the rustling coming from the bed indicating she was restless too. Sleep came slowly and fitfully, with new nightmares to enhance the old ones but as he tossed and turned, dreaming about the evening’s events, his mind continued to throw images of her relieved face at him. Making him remember how easily she had come to him when he’d held out his hand, holding on without hesitation, despite everything he’d done to her.

As Arnav slept, his subconscious mind finally let go of the blind rage he’d been lost in and allowed himself to relive the incident again and her voice rang in his head, panicked but clear as a bell, ‘Hum ne kaha na humse door rahiye!’ He remembered how he’d heard something in her voice that made him react instantly and now his sleeping brain identified what exactly he’d heard – raw fear.

His eyes flew open and he sat up suddenly, his heart pounding. Images flashed through his mind like a kaleidoscope; the sheer relief on her face when she’d seen him, walked towards him, the way her hand had tightened on his arm while the creep spoke, not letting go.

And more besides those; including that evening at the function they’d all been at, how she’d moved to stand almost behind him when Shyam joined their group. Realisation flooded through him in waves, leaving him shaky and utterly confused; she was afraid of Shyam? He looked towards the bed, fighting down the urge to wake her up and ask her what she’d been so afraid of; it didn’t add up with what he’d seen that night, none of it did.

Sleep was lost to him now and instead he sat watching her sleeping form as if it would give him the answers he sought. He’d always thought of her and Shyam as equally guilty of treachery but now his resolve felt shaky and he wasn’t so convinced… maybe they still were but he had to be sure. He heard the high note of fear in his mind again and felt a new level of burning hatred for the man sleeping a few doors away. He knew the irrational protectiveness he felt was most likely misguided and maybe he’d hate himself for it later but no matter how painful it was, he had to find out the truth once and for all..