Arnav looked up from packing as someone knocked on his hotel room door; his heart thudded stupidly and his mouth went dry as he wondered if it was Khushi. He hadn’t seen her this morning when he’d gone to meet Lavanya for their 9 ‘o’ clock. He’d barely been able to concentrate on the meeting and was glad that it was pretty much a done deal because he didn’t think he could’ve negotiated his way out of an empty box in the state his head was in. He hadn’t slept at all the previous night, the thoughts going round and round in his mind, driving him insane.
He didn’t even need to close his eyes to remember what it had felt like when he was with Khushi and he hadn’t been able to think of anything else except their kiss. He’d tried to think about it calmly and rationally but it was no use; there was nothing calm or rational about his feelings for her and he had no clue what he was going to do about it all.
Why hadn’t he thought before he’d acted? What had happened to that famous iron willed control of his? It scared him how easily she had slipped past all of his defences… Arnav sighed as walked to the door knowing he had no answers to his internal questions.
He braced himself as he opened the door and despite all the internal conflict, he still felt a sharp sting of disappointment when he saw it was only Lavanya and not Khushi. He let her in and went back to packing, a little more angrily than before; only half listening as Lavanya said their car would be here in an hour. Suddenly he heard Khushi’s name and looked up sharply.
‘…uss ne mujhe kuch nahi bataya lekin mujhe pata hai ke woh bohth pareshaan hai. I think you need to talk to her ASR, bohth ho gaya yeh sab!’ Arnav unwillingly remembered how he had left things so unfinished and unexplained between them and felt a stab of guilt for what she must be going through.
‘Look Lavanya,’ Arnav started to say it was none of her business but La stopped him. ‘I don’t care ASR, mujhe pata hai that it’s none of my business lekin tum dono mere dost ho! And don’t tell me it’s nothing, main itni bhi stupid nahi hoon!’ Arnav glared at her and turned away, flinging his bag shut roughly and feeling too confused to even yell at her. ‘Look ASR, tumhe kuch karna hoga or you’ll lose her – do you understand? Ek baar toh kho ne se bach gaye lekin kitni baar aisa hoga?!’
‘I don’t want to hear all this Lavanya!’ He tried to sound firm but his heart wasn’t in it and Lavanya seemed to know it too. ‘Maybe you don’t want to but you need to. Shayad tumhe pehle pata nahi tha lekin aur kitne jhoot bolo ge sab se? Khud se… Khushi se?!’ He felt her hand on his shoulder but he didn’t turn, sheer will holding him in place. ‘Arnav…’
That made him freeze for an instant and he turned around in surprise, despite everything else; he could count the times she’d called him Arnav on one hand. ‘Yaad hai maine kaha tha, jab pyaar tumhe mil jaye usse jaane mat de na? Well this is it; jitna pyaar maine tumhari aankhon mein Khushi ke liye dekha hai utna bohth kam logo ko mil tha hai.’ She blinked away tears, ‘Don’t let her go Arnav, please.’
He didn’t reply because he didn’t know what to say or how to say it; how could he put into words what was going on inside him? Part of him knew she was right but another part kept telling him that whatever he felt was only going to destroy him in the end. Khushi was his weakness and he didn’t know if he could embrace that.
Even if he didn’t want to admit it, the complete loss of control whenever he was around her scared him; how could he embrace that willingly?! He said none of this out loud and Lavanya didn’t say anything else either. She cleared her throat, ‘I’ll meet you in the lobby in an hour – you can fire me later…’ She gave a weak smile and left, leaving Arnav in even more of a mess than he’d been last night.
Arnav handed his bags to the bell boy distractedly, his eyes scanning the hotel lobby for Khushi and not finding her. Lavanya walked towards him just as he saw Khushi at the end of one of the corridors leading off the main lobby, talking to a little boy.
‘Go ahead Lavanya, I’ll be right there…’ La followed his gaze and told him to take his time but he didn’t look at her as he walked over to Khushi slowly, still not knowing exactly what he was going to say or do but feeling like he had to do something.
He reached her just as she was straightening up from hugging the little boy and as he waved and walked away Khushi looked up and saw Arnav; the smile freezing on her lips. She swallowed nervously and pointed in the direction the boy had gone in, ‘Adi…’ Arnav blinked and placed the name after a few seconds as understanding dawned on him and he realised that was who she’d built her snowman with.
He nodded as he watched her and he saw her lick her lips nervously, ‘Humme… chalna chahiye…’ She didn’t meet his eyes and tried to walk past him but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her back, trapping her between himself and the wall; her behaviour was confusing him.
‘Khushi tumhe nahi lag tha ke humme pehle kuch baat karni hai..?!’ Khushi hadn’t looked at him when he’d pulled her back but now she looked up in surprise at the sound of his soft voice. Her eyes looked tired and her face seemed drawn as she watched him, mostly with confusion before saying a little warily, ‘Baat..?’
Arnav tried to stay calm, he’d thought she would have wanted to talk – she’d wanted to last time during Diwali when nothing had even happened! ‘Kal raat ke baare mein..?’ He raised an eyebrow when he got no response, ‘You do remember right?!’ he asked, wondering a little insanely if he’d imagined it all.
Khushi’s face went a deep shade of pink and she tried to pull her wrist out of his hand but he held on, moving closer so that she had nowhere else to look but at him. ‘Dekhiye…aap’ she started a little shakily and he watched her with some unwilling curiosity as he wondered where the hell this was all going. ‘Humme pata hai ke aap kya kahenge…’
Arnav’s eyes widened and despite himself, he raised an eyebrow enquiringly, ‘Oh really? Toh main kya kehne waala hoon Khushi, tum hi bata do?’ He waited as she took a deep breath before speaking and what she said cut him deeply.
‘Yahi ki kal raat…woh sab…kuch bhi nahi tha. Aap ko iss sab se koi farak nahi padta… hum kuch bhi nahi hai…’ Her quiet voice faded away and he saw her blink away tears as she looked somewhere by his left ear, refusing to meet his eyes. He felt something twist inside him painfully as he remembered his words from Diwali and saw how much they’d left their mark on her.
As she waited nervously, it suddenly hit Arnav that this was it; he had the option of just walking away right now. All he had to do was say that she was right and it meant nothing… except that he knew that it meant everything; she meant everything.
He remembered Lavanya’s words about losing her and wished he’d had more time to think. He looked down at the girl standing in front of him; he saw her innocent face, the tears that stung him, the lips that when they smiled made him feel like he was on top of the world. She was stubborn and totally insane and she drove him crazy; but she made him smile, made him laugh, made him feel things he’d never felt or thought he’d feel…
He blinked as she looked up at him questioningly. He was still no closer to figuring out what he was going say but as he opened his mouth he saw her eyes tighten and her jaw clench. She sucked in a quick breath as though she was bracing herself for the impact of his coming words.
Seeing her guarded and slightly fearful expression made something inside him ache and he just wanted to shield her from everything – including his own stubbornness. And then suddenly it was clear to him what he should do. He let out the breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding, feeling lighter somehow.
Arnav let go of Khushi’s wrist and reached up to touch her cheek lightly; he let his fingers run down the side of her face and cupped her cheek while Khushi remained frozen, her heart beating a mile a minute as she watched him in surprise. She had no idea what he was going to say; she’d waited for what felt like an age for him to say the hateful words she knew would break her heart all over again but so far he hadn’t said a word. He’d only watched her, making her heart skip with the intensity of his gaze.
Now he leaned even closer so that there was no space left between them and rested his forehead on hers causing her breath to hitch as she remembered the kiss they’d shared the night before and the way he’d held onto her so tightly.
‘Har baar ki tarah tum aaj bhi galat ho Khushi Kumari Gupta..’ Khushi blinked and tried to keep track of his murmured words as she felt his lips brush her forehead and then the side of her face down to the corner of her lips, the roughness of his stubble on her cheek making her shiver.
She couldn’t think as he kissed her softly while his fingers stroked the back of her neck. Her hands reached up of their own accord and her fingers had just found their way into his hair when she felt a swirl of disappointment as he pulled away slightly.
The sound of their uneven breathing made Khushi blush but she didn’t want him to move away so she kept her hands where they were, a tiny flicker of hope unfurling somewhere deep inside her. She felt his lips move against hers again and it took her a while to focus on what he was actually saying, ‘You’re wrong Khushi – about everything…’ His voice was rough and breathless and it made her lose her mind a little.
‘Whatever I said that night… woh sab jhoot tha… lekin iss baar main kahi nahi jaoonga…’ Khushi’s fingers tightened in Arnav’s hair and she held him close, not daring to breathe as he continued in that rough, uneven voice that made everything else seem meaningless, ‘Sach toh yeh hai ki mujhe iss sab se…tum se…bohth farak padta hai Khushi Kumari Gupta…’
He kissed her deeply, his lips lingering on hers as they turned her world upside down. It was as if he was trying to show her just how much she mattered and she felt herself melt; she wanted to ask why, she needed to hear him say it but then they both felt his phone buzzing in his pocket making them jump.
Arnav let out a ragged breath against Khushi’s cheek, wanting to break the damned phone but at the same time feeling like maybe for now it was ok. He’d been about to take the fall and tell her how much he loved her but maybe here in a hotel hallway wasn’t the right time…
His phone went off again but she was still holding onto him and he couldn’t help getting drawn into her eyes; he kissed the tip of her nose feeling his control begin to slip away again. His phone buzzed for the third time and it took all his strength to move away from her, his arms felt empty but as he looked at her it warmed him to see his reluctance to move away mirrored so clearly in her eyes.
It’s a step, he thought as he tried to clear his head; he’d made his decision and she hadn’t pushed him away – he was fairly sure she felt the same way he did… She seemed to be having trouble meeting his eyes again though and he held out his hand, hearing his heart thud loudly in his ears while he waited for her to take it, ‘Ghar chal ke baat karenge?’
He phrased it as a question and waited, not daring to breathe as she looked at his hand wordlessly and then up into his eyes. It was an odd, vulnerable feeling; one he’d never had before as he waited with his heart in his mouth, each second feeling like an hour. It scared him to think her one, minute action had so much hold over him.
Khushi swallowed and reached out slowly, taking his hand and feeling like she was in some sort of strange parallel world. She saw Arnav let out a breath as her fingers slid into his and his hand curled around hers protectively. His expression cleared and his eyes seemed to smile down at her, promising her things and making her heart thump loudly in her ears.
They walked silently towards the hotel entrance with their hands still entwined, both lost in everything that had taken place since they’d set out from home a couple of days ago. Both fully aware that things had changed between them for good and there was no going back…