Timeframe: Written in early November 2011 and set sometime in between Khushi’s engagement to Shyam and Arnav finding out about it.
‘What the hell are you doing Khushi?!!’ He could see she was about to fall… although he couldn’t tell from where… ‘Ghir jaaogi!’ His heart was in his mouth and he could hear it thud loudly in his ears as she took a step away from him, to the edge of… wherever it was. ‘Toh?!! Aap ko iss se kya matlab? Humari zindagi hai, hum jo chahe kar sakte hai! Aap hote kaun hai?!’
Khushi glared back at him in a way that made him want shake her and kiss her all at the same time. He blinked and tried to focus, this wasn’t the time… There was an odd ringing sound in his ears which he tried to ignore as he looked at her, ‘Khushi, don’t be so stupid! Mera haath lo.’ He kept his voice steady somehow and held out his hand. Only to have her narrow her eyes at it and step away into the nothingness…
‘Khushi!!’ Arnav sat up in bed in a cold sweat, her name still ringing in his ears.
This had to stop, he’d had the same dream every night this week and each time it felt more vivid; this time he could still hear the weird ringing… He shook his head to clear it and realised fuzzily that it was real ringing and it was his phone. ‘Whut..?’ He blinked and tried to clear his head as he answered and looked at the clock; who the hell was calling him after midnight?!
‘Hello… ASR? Umm main Kim bol rahi hoon… La ki friend?’ Arnav bit back the rude words on the tip of his tongue, this girl talked slower than a snail! ‘Toh? It’s late, get to the point!’ He waited, getting more annoyed as she explained how they were at a party and Lavanya was drunk and in no state to drive. ‘You’re her fiancée naa? So I thought you could pick her up…’
The word ‘fiancée’ felt like sandpaper on his already raw nerves, especially when it wasn’t even the case and he was about to tell the girl to leave Lavanya where she was till she slept it off but then she said something which made him freeze, ‘Uss ki dost bhi uss ki saath hai, actually I think La was her ride home… aur taxi bhi nahi mil rahi…’
She went on and on in her monotonous voice but he tuned her out as he wondered for a few seconds before cutting her off, ‘Dost? Kaun si dost?’ He waited impatiently till she mentioned La had brought some ‘dukhi si girl’ she’d never seen before who’d spent all night looking uncomfortable and out of place. A second later he was out of bed and grabbing his car keys as he looked for his shoes. ‘Address?!’
Where was this Kim girl?! Khushi felt her stomach clench anxiously as she put her arm around Lavanya’s shoulders; she’d said she was going to call a taxi and hadn’t come back. They were sitting on a bench outside the huge house where they’d come, all the other guests gone.
Khushi still couldn’t believe she’d been talked into coming here with Lavanya but she’d come to her house to pick her up when she’d refused over the phone. She wriggled in her seat, feeling a little uncomfortable in the saree Lavanya had bought her; it was a beautiful night and wasn’t particularly chilly either but her shoulders were bare and she couldn’t help shivering when she felt a breeze lift her hair off them.
‘Chamkiiliii!!! Did I tell you? You’re looking soo good today, dekha, maine kaha tha naa?!’ Khushi smiled a little at Lavanya’s drunken nonsense; she was sweet but Khushi was worried about more pressing matters, ‘Lavanyaji, hum ghar kese pohnchenge? Aur aap ki dost bhi kahi chali gayi…’
She bit her lip as Lavanya shrugged, looking the least bit bothered before she put her head on Khushi’s shoulder happily… and promptly fell asleep! ‘Lavanyaji?!’ She’d thought coming to sit in the night air would help clear Lavanya’s head but it obviously hadn’t worked.
Khushi sighed and closed her eyes, ‘maybe I should call him…?’ Her eyes flew open and she shook her head at the traitorous voice in her head, ‘Nahi! Hum uss Laad Governor ko kyu phone kare?!’ Her stomach twisted even more and she felt an ache in her chest as she thought of his reaction to her calling him at this hour; he hated her enough already and she couldn’t bear to see the look on his face as he reminded her he never wanted to see her face for the millionth time.
No, it was better she waited for this Kim person even if it took all night…
She was wearing black. He’d never seen her in anything other than bright colours and sparkles but here she was, sitting on a stone bench wearing a simple black saree that made her skin glow a pale milky white in the moonlight. She looked ethereal, like something out of a dream… unreal almost.
Except he knew she was real and he knew what that skin felt like under his fingertips… Arnav swallowed and tried to focus on something else – Lavanya. She was asleep with her head in Khushi’s lap and Khushi was stroking her hair absently as she watched her. Suddenly her hand froze and he knew she felt him there even before she looked up.
Neither of them said a word for what seemed like a lifetime; Khushi stared at him first in shock and then with apprehension and Arnav felt a now very familiar guilt in the pit of his stomach; she expected him to bite her head off and he supposed he couldn’t blame her after the way he’d been acting lately. ‘Aap… aap yahaan kaise…?’ Her voice trembled ever so slightly and then faded off as she looked away while he carried on staring, unable to help himself.
‘Khushi…’ he started softly and she looked up in surprise at his tone but he didn’t know how to make things ok; he didn’t even know where to start so he decided to concentrate on why he’d come here. ‘Lavanya ki kissi dost ka phone aaya tha,’ he said more matter-of-factly as he walked up to her. He tried not to notice the way the breeze was playing with her hair, it was stupid to feel jealous of air after all… He looked down at Lavanya sleeping peacefully and shook his head muttering ‘unbelievable’ under his breath. He couldn’t believe she’d put him in this situation and now was dead to the world.
He reached down to take her off Khushi’s lap and then looked up, feeling an unwanted stab of pain when she shrank away from him, moving Lavanya too. ‘Tum utaogi isse?!’ He raised an eyebrow and spoke more harshly than he’d wanted and Khushi frowned at him for a second before lifting Lavanya’s head off her lap a little so that he could take her.
He reached out again and tried to ignore the way her hand felt against his as he took Lavanya but his eyes met hers and he knew she’d felt the jolt too. They were both frozen for a moment till Lavanya stirred and he made his feet move away from Khushi as he walked to the car with her.
‘Well come on then!’ Khushi was just standing there now and he was feeling impatient and restless at having her so close by and wearing that flimsy excuse for a saree. ‘It looks like something Lavanya would wear…’ he thought as his eyes ran over her from head to toe, taking in her open hair and bare shoulders… was it backless too? He somehow pulled his gaze away and dragged in a breath, telling himself to get a grip as he turned and walked towards the car, expecting her to follow.
‘Khushi?’ She wasn’t behind him and he reluctantly turned back to face her. ‘Aap Lavanyaji ke saath chale jayi ye, hum taxi le kar…’ She sounded nervous but it was late and he was already close to the edge so he cut her off mid-sentence, ‘Are you crazy?! Taxi? Itni raat ko…!’
She bridled at his snarky tone and he saw a stubborn glint enter her eyes as she folded her arms and looked away without saying a word. This tiny waif of a girl was going to take every last scrap of his self control and drive him completely insane he thought as he closed his eyes and resisted the urge to yell, ‘Dekho, iss waqt koi taxi nahi milega so just get in the car.’ He’d kept his voice as level as he could but then gave up trying to be civil when she didn’t budge.
‘Get in the car Khushi…’ He walked towards her slowly and saw her eyes widen as she took a step back and found the bench behind her knees, ‘Nahi woh… dekhiye aap is tarah…’ her voice shook as he kept going and she looked around in panic but he was in no mood to stop.
He reached her and stood as close to her as he could without actually touching her while she looked everywhere but at him. Everything seemed so dream-like in the moonlight, he didn’t think he could trust himself to touch her so he leaned in and spoke in a soft but deadly serious voice, ‘Aakhri baar keh raha hoon Khushi Kumari Gupta – get in the car… varna main apne aap ko aur nahi rokoonga.’
His words shocked Khushi into looking at his face which was now only millimetres away from hers and she was shaken by the intensity in his eyes. She tried to think clearly but he was too close and all her senses were going crazy; she knew she was being stupid and stubborn but she kept hearing his angry voice telling her he never wanted to see her face so how could she now just let him drive her home like everything was normal?
Nothing was normal where Arnav Singh Raizada was concerned – nothing made sense, even things that seemed normal and clear-cut were thrown into chaos and madness when he was near her.
He made her so angry a part of her just want to push him and push him till he broke or exploded or… something! But a more sensible part, the part which valued her life probably, told her not to push him tonight; he looked half mad and like he was past the edge of his already limited patience.
Suddenly he leaned even closer to her and spoke dangerously into her ear, his velvety soft voice making her heart thud loudly, ‘Toh tum aise nahi maanogi…’ Khushi blinked and tried to calm her panicked mind; she wanted to tell him that she was ready to agree to anything – she’d get in the car, he could drive her anywhere… but she couldn’t seem to move and that stupid part of her didn’t even want to move.
She felt his hands on her shoulders and she expected him to drag her to the car but instead he froze for a moment before trailing his fingers lightly down to her elbows. maddeningly slowly, causing her to shiver and lose her mind. ‘Khushi…’
She couldn’t bear the way he said her name; in fact she hated it because it made her melt and turned her legs to jelly. His voice caressed the word as though it was precious to him… when he’d told her repeatedly she meant nothing. It confused her, made her question her own sanity and she couldn’t stand it.
His fingers travelled back up to her shoulders almost lazily and his lips brushed her cheek and then her ear, trailing fire as he said her name again but this time it somehow it pushed her into moving.
Khushi reached up with nerveless fingers and pushed at Arnav’s chest uselessly, trying not to notice how his heart seemed to be beating even faster than hers, ‘Nahi hum… hum aate hai…’ Her voice was unsteady and she tried to breathe normally as she pushed him again but it had no effect for while. When he finally stepped back she watched the emotions flash across his face in lightning quick speed; confusion, anger, hurt… disappointment?
She blinked and it was all gone and she wondered if she’d imagined the hurt because after a few seconds his face was stony although his eyes still burned with something she couldn’t name. He gave her a long, unreadable look before turning and stalking over to the car and she followed after a minute, confused at the mess of emotions he made her feel; she’d stopped him so how could she now be feeling so empty as he walked away? She tried in vain to make sense of what had just happened and make sense of the man in front of her.
‘What the hell were you doing?!’ Arnav gripped the steering wheel roughly as he muttered out loud to himself, trying to forget the softness of her skin, the smell of her hair and the way her breath felt against his cheek. Why had he done that, why had he gotten so close to her again when he knew how dangerous it was… and what would he have done if she hadn’t pushed him away..?! He kept his eyes forward and held his breath as she got into the car next to him. What must she be thinking, why couldn’t he just stay away from her?!
He started the car and drove to her house in silence with only Lavanya stirring a couple of times in the back. For once Khushi didn’t try to fill the silence with mindless chatter but somehow that made it worse and the tension in the air between them set his teeth on edge; he glanced over at her a few times because he couldn’t help it and saw she was avoiding looking at him and stupidly that bruised him further.
He reached her house too quickly and as Khushi quietly got out of the car, he kept his jaw clenched to stop himself from giving in and doing something unforgivable, like calling her back… His eyes still followed her though, and he waited, feeling an unexplainable stab of satisfaction when she turned back to look at him searchingly before entering the house; it was clear he was losing his mind and he couldn’t seem to do a thing about it!
He looked at the clock on the dashboard as he drove away; his mind a confused and painful mess. It was only an hour past midnight, there was still the whole night to go… but as he remembered the flash of confusion mixed with disappointment in her eyes when she pushed him away, he knew he wouldn’t be getting any peace tonight.