‘That went well.’ Arnav said as he walked into the room Lavanya and Khushi were sharing, while his eyes unwillingly did a quick scan of the room finding it empty except for La. Why did it matter where she was?! The meeting had gone better than well, it had been almost perfect with just a few minor details to be worked out the next morning; that was what he should be focusing on, not on the feeling of disappointment at Khushi not being here.
Lavanya looked up from the dresses she was hanging up and smiled, ‘Yes it did… and I’m not sure where Khushi is; she wasn’t here when I got back.’ Arnav gave her a look that in the past might have caused her to stammer but now she simply shrugged it off as he spoke in a deliberately cold voice, ‘Maine uss ke baare mein poocha kab tha?’
It annoyed him that he’d been caught out so easily but La didn’t seem surprised or even too bothered as she picked up some toiletries and headed towards the bathroom, ‘You didn’t have to ASR, shayad tumhara chehra hi aisa hai..?’ He could have sworn she was smirking to herself as she walked past him and he frowned, wishing she wasn’t right and he didn’t care a damn where Khushi was.
‘Wait a sec!’ he called before she shut the bathroom door. ‘Don’t forget, the gala event is at 8.00…humme late nahi honi chahiye. And do something about Khushi! Why did you even bring her Lavanya? Woh akeli yahaan kya karegi?!’ Lavanya merely nodded, ignoring his questions completely, ‘Chamkili ki fikar mat karo ASR, she won’t be bored at all, promise!’ Arnav made a noise that sounded more like a strangled curse and stalked out of the room with Lavanya’s quiet laugh ringing in his ears.
Khushi was relaxed and having fun; she’d made a friend – Adi, a 9 year old boy who was here with his parents and equally as bored as Khushi had been. They’d hit it off straight away and now they were sitting in the snow, laughing and building a little snow fort for the snowman they’d already made.
After unpacking and having some lunch, Khushi had been bored out of her mind while Arnav and the others had disappeared for their meeting. She’d thought Lavanya had brought her along for company but now she wasn’t so sure since she didn’t seem to have any free time anyway. Khushi had wandered around the hotel listlessly till she’d found a brochure which boasted of impressive gardens so she’d wrapped up again and gone out when she’d bumped into Adi.
She smiled as she looked around at the way the snow glittered on everything in the evening light; she didn’t know what this place looked like in summer but right now it was so picturesque, she didn’t think it could look any better.
‘Khushi Di, it’s getting late, my mum’s gonna be waiting… thanks for playing with me!’ Adi stood up and gave her a sweet smile and a shy wave before turning and running back towards the hotel, leaving a smiling Khushi to wonder what she was doing here.
Arnav had barely spoken to her since they’d stood in the snow outside the hotel for what seemed like an age. Khushi didn’t know what to make of any of it. Since Lavanya had left and the wedding preparations had started there had been moments when she’d thought something was about to change between them but nothing ever did; there was just that feeling and then the disappointment and confusion… and constant arguments. She felt both comfortable and yet oddly aware of everything when she was around him and it seemed like no matter what either of them did, they couldn’t avoid each other.
Neither had spoken much about their broken engagements; Arnav had noticed Khushi was tense during family gatherings but whenever he’d questioned her about it she’d avoided it or said something to deliberately annoy him but she didn’t know how much longer things could go on like that. She regretted agreeing to come with them on this trip; she knew it was a mistake but she hadn’t been able to say no to Lavanya.
And Arnav wasn’t happy she was here either… the thought upset her and she hated that his opinion mattered that much.
His actions don’t match his words though, she thought suddenly; the way he’d pulled her so close that she’d gotten dizzy and the look he’d had in his eyes wasn’t a look of someone who didn’t want her there… She was just thinking about the way he’d placed her glove with so much care and fixed her hair with gentle but sure fingers when suddenly she heard a voice behind her and froze for a second before scrambling to her feet; ‘how does he always find me?!’ she thought vaguely, trying to compose herself before looking at him.
‘Khushi tum…’ Arnav’s voice faded away as his eyes went to the 3ft snowman standing a few feet away from her, complete with a smiley face, a bobbly hat and a scarf. Then his eyes went to the fort they’d built around it and Khushi saw his face get a decidedly ‘what the…’ look about it and quickly tried to explain.
‘Yeh sab humne nahi… humara matlab hai ke humne akele nahi banaya!’ Arnav looked around the snow white garden a little sceptically and Khushi pointed towards where the hotel was, ‘Woh Adi yahi tha lekin ab woh… chala gaya…’ she finished uselessly, wondering why Devi Mayya always landed her up in these weird situations.
Arnav frowned at the name; why did he care if she’d built a funny looking snowman with some invisible guy?! He was only here because it was already starting to get dark and no-one had been able to find her inside; Lavanya had practically dragged him out of his room to go and find her.
He stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, ‘Whatever,’ he said extra dismissively, trying not to remember the incredibly sweet smile that had been on her face when he’d first seen her sitting in the snow. ‘It’s getting late, come.’ He turned to go and reluctantly adjusted his stride so she could follow more easily.
They walked in silence for a few minutes till, as he’d expected, the chatter started, ‘Aap ki meeting khatam ho gayi? Lavanya ji kaha hai? Baraf kitni sundar lag thi hai, hai na? Ghar main sab kya kar rahe honge? Hum kal kitne baje niklenge?’ It was random and incessant and Arnav tried hard to hold onto his patience but eventually he couldn’t help interrupting her.
‘Khushi tumhe koi jawab bhi chahiye ya sirf sawal hi pooch thi rahogi?!’ She went quiet and he smirked to himself till she spoke again, ‘Humme pata hai ke aap koi jawab nahi denge, aap bol the hi kaha hai?! Lekin humme chuppi acchi nahi lag thi, humari amma kehti hai ki -‘ Her voice cut off abruptly and he turned around, not seeing her. ‘Khushi?!’ He felt a stab of worry till he looked down and saw she was in a tangle on the floor.
She was wearing the same outfit as this morning except the jacket was replaced by a dark blue sweater and now as he looked at her in the snow, he saw that her hat had twisted forward, covering her eyes and she was reaching up with her gloves blindly, ‘Arnav ji?! Hum ghir gaye!!’ He shook his head at her panicked tone thinking this was the story of their lives…
He reached down and pulled her hat off to find her blinking up at him with wide hazel eyes that right now looked luminous and slightly sheepish as she regarded him. ‘Hum ghir gaye…’ she said again in a small voice and he had the sudden urge to bundle her up in his arms.
He cleared his throat and made himself breathe normally as he reached down and pulled her up, taking care not to get too close this time. He picked up her hat and shook off the snow before placing it on her head carefully while she watched him wordlessly. They walked the short distance back to the hotel without either of them saying another word and Arnav was relieved when they reached the bright lights of the hotel lobby, the low chatter of other guests easing some of the unspoken tension between them.
He dropped her off to her room and then went to his own to get changed for the gala evening; it was the last thing he felt like doing but it was being thrown by their client and he told himself that Khushi wouldn’t be there so it would at least distract him from the thoughts he was having about her. He sighed as he picked up a towel and headed into the bathroom to take a shower, knowing he was only giving himself false hope when it came to forgetting about Khushi.