‘Snowflakes and Moonlight’
Arnav had been mingling with guests for barely 15 minutes when he began to feel bored stiff. He hated these things, everyone smiled fake smiles and gave fake compliments, laughed too loud and made him wish he was anywhere but there. Maybe upstairs in her room with her… he cut off that thought before it could fully form and was relieved when someone greeted him, distracting him for a few minutes.
He was doing well and even appeared to be listening to the stylishly dressed woman in front of him tell him about her latest trip to Paris when he looked up and saw Lavanya enter the hall they were in along with someone it took him a heart-stopping second to recognise. When he did, he froze and suddenly he couldn’t see or hear anything except for his own heartbeat pounding in his ears.
She was wearing a deep purple gown which whispered along the floor as she walked through the room uncertainly and stood next to Lavanya while she chatted to some guests. It had a fitted bodice and would have been strapless but for the delicate purple lace which covered her and ended in a straight line neck and capped sleeves, leaving her arms bare as her hands nervously smoothed the soft purple fabric which fell to the floor in a pool around her.
Her hair was open and the loose curls were pulled to one side, exposing her pale white neck and Arnav felt like he was in a trance as he walked forward, not caring what it must look like to the woman he’d been talking to; he just had to be there where she was, nothing else mattered.
Khushi was standing with Lavanya, feeling nervous and extremely self-conscious in the dress La had made her wear when she felt eyes on her; knowing who it was before she even looked up. Her mouth went dry as she met his eyes and her heart stopped when she saw that he was walking towards her with a glazed look on his face.
She was suddenly transported back to Diwali and she couldn’t seem to breathe as she looked into liquid bronze eyes which burned into her. Time stood still and it felt almost as though there was no-one but them in the room.
‘Chamkili, main abhi aayi ok? Don’t worry you’ll be fine!’ Khushi jumped a little and then tried to call her back but La carried on and then she was standing alone till Arnav reached her and neither of them seemed to know what to say or how to look away till he finally spoke, ‘Khushi…’
‘Arnav!’ Arnav gave a start and whatever he’d been about to say was lost as he realised they were no longer alone. The booming voice belonged to a silver haired man; the man with whom’s approval AR Group’s latest business venture would hopefully be finalised tomorrow. Arnav blinked and forced himself to smile as he shook the man’s hand; he purposely didn’t look at Khushi as he tried to regain his composure. ‘Mr Kishore, thank you for inviting us today.’ The older man nodded and spoke a few pleasantries before turning to Khushi and Arnav braced himself before he looked at her again.
‘And who is this lovely young lady Arnav?’ Arnav waited a beat and then opened his mouth to introduce them but Khushi was already smiling warmly whilst saying ‘Namaste, humara naam Khushi hai.’ The man returned the smile and told her to call him Kishore before asking if she also worked with Arnav, remarking that he hadn’t seen her at the meeting earlier. ‘Nahi woh, hum pehle Arnav ji ke yahaan hi kaam karte the lekin…’ Arnav saw the man’s eyes widen as Khushi’s voice faded away a little uncertainly. ‘Arnav! You didn’t fire her did you?!’ He looked at Khushi and gave her an apologetic smile.
Khushi bristled a little at the immediate assumption and then it was Arnav’s turn to feel bruised as she said in a quiet but steady voice, ‘Nahi Kishore ji, darasal hum ne hi humara istifa de diya tha.’ Arnav saw something like surprise and then respect flash in the older man’s eyes as he tried to smooth over the situation; her resignation was something that still rankled and he didn’t like being reminded of it.
‘Actually Mr Kishore, Khushi’s sister is engaged to my brother Akash; aap Akash ko toh jaante hi hai. Khushi is Lavanya’s guest.’ Arnav spoke smoothly and politely enough but he saw Khushi look at him a little nervously, hearing the steel behind his words.
Kishore looked between the two and raised his eyebrows; smiling a little at the way they were both so pointedly NOT looking at each other. ‘Well it was lovely meeting you Khushi, enjoy the evening,’ he shook Khushi’s hand and then turned to Arnav. ‘I’ll see you tomorrow morning Arnav,’ he patted Arnav’s arm and leaned close, ‘Keep hold of this one!’ he said quietly, inclining his head towards Khushi who looked a little confusedly at them. Arnav looked at him in surprise and Kishore gave a quiet laugh before making his exit.
‘Tum yahaan kya kar rahi ho?!’ Arnav didn’t want to sound so harsh but he couldn’t seem to stop himself; she’d surprised him by being here, stunned him with that dress and then made him feel silly in front of one of his clients! Khushi frowned, ‘Hum sirf Lavanya ji ki kehne pe yahaan aaye, aur kissi ke liye nahi!’ Her tone of voice grated on his nerves and her pointed words needled him further.
‘Toh uski saath kyu nahi rehti tum? Mere saamne kyu baar baar aati ho?!’ He knew he wasn’t being fair and he hated the way her mouth tightened as she blinked rapidly. He saw her swallow back tears and guilt washed over him. ‘Khushi…’ he started but she refused to look at him and didn’t let him finish as she walked away silently, leaving him feeling confused and frustrated.
To his annoyance she spent the rest of the evening avoiding him completely and he watched as she made her way through the guests with Lavanya and caught everyone’s eye as she went. She looked beautiful and elegant and he was surprised at how easily she seemed to fit in with this crowd, making people laugh and smile and putting them instantly at ease with her ready smile and warm nature.
She seemed unaware of the attention she was drawing, especially from the men in the room and Arnav felt his jaw clench as he saw her laughing comfortably with a guy Lavanya had left her with. He didn’t recognise him but right now he felt like breaking the guy’s fingers as he placed a hand on her back and walked her over to where the drinks were.
‘Are you ok ASR? Kya hua?’ He blinked and muttered he was fine to Lavanya, his eyes never leaving Khushi… or that hand. ‘Who’s that?!’ he snapped as Khushi laughed again and shook her head to the glass of champagne she was being offered. ‘Just a friend I used to work with, Aditya; they look so cute together right?’ He didn’t think he could answer coherently or without swearing so instead he seethed silently as he watched Khushi take a glass of orange juice and smile up at the guy.
‘Well sab kuch hone ke baad I think Khushi deserves some happiness right? And Adi’s really a great guy…’ Lavanya seemed unaware of the effect her words had on Arnav and appeared to see someone else she knew in the crowd and left him to his thoughts. Adi… the name rang a bell and suddenly he remembered finding Khushi outside in the snow earlier that evening and her words about not building the stupid snowman alone rang in his ears… it couldn’t be the same guy could it?!
He grimly remembered the dreamy smile she’d had on her face and his stomach knotted up painfully as his mind went into over-drive… It took all his strength not to walk over there and pull her away from the guy and for the rest of the evening no matter who he spoke to or what he did, he couldn’t get the image of the two of them laughing together out of his head.
Khushi sighed and took in a long breath of cool night air as she escaped from the hotel and the music and all of the guests. She’d come out of the quiet back entrance, the same way she had this morning and now she could see someone had strung up lights in the trees and they were flickering in the night. The twinkling fairy lights took nothing away from the glittering snow, now bathed in moonlight and it all made the view even more enchanting.
She was wearing low heels but her toes were covered so she risked lifting her long skirt a little as she walked down the few solid wood stairs before stepping out gingerly onto the snow. She tip-toed lightly over to the bench she’d found Adi sitting on this afternoon and sat down, letting the quiet peacefulness of the place seep into her and soothe her frayed nerves.
After her spat with Arnav she’d had a surprisingly good time; she’d met a few nice people and Lavanya’s friend Aditya had been great company, making her laugh with his jokes, taking her mind off Arnav. She’d felt his eyes on her throughout the night but refused to acknowledge it; she’d stayed away from him, still feeling upset at the way he’d been so harsh with her earlier and then she had slipped out of the room when other guests started to leave too.
She looked up at the almost full moon and sighed; she didn’t understand why or even how she always seemed to get on his bad side. ‘Like he even has a good side!’ she thought waspishly, knowing that she wasn’t being entirely fair but she didn’t care right now. She closed her eyes for a few moments, trying to clear her mind of him when she heard a rustle and felt a cool breeze brush its light fingers across her bare skin and she knew she was no longer alone.
She didn’t look at Arnav as she stood up carefully, holding her dress a little above the snow. She tried to brush past him but he moved so she had no choice but to look at him. She didn’t want to fall into those eyes so she focused on the shadow along his clenched jaw and on the knot of his dark grey tie and she saw him swallow once before speaking in a rough voice. ‘Tum yahaan kyu aa gayi? Andhar to kaafi enjoy kar rahi thi!’
Khushi’s eyes flew up to his face in surprised anger at his tone and it was only when she saw the satisfaction in his eyes that she realised that was what he’d wanted all along. She bit her lip and didn’t reply as he tilted his head a little, his dark eyes burning into hers, making it hard for her to remember she was angry.
‘What? You were having fun right… Lavanya ki dost ke saath?’ His words grated roughly on her already frayed nerves and she couldn’t help responding, her voice rising with each word, ‘Haan toh?! Aap ko iss se kya matlab? Hum kaha jaye, kiss se baat kare, aap ko iss se kya pareshaani hai?!’
He was glaring at her now, she could see he was about to lose it but suddenly she’d had enough. She spun away from him and stomped away, circling widely around him to get back to the hotel. ‘Khushi!’ he called her name in an urgent voice, making her heart beat even faster but she ignored him and carried on.
She’d let go of her dress so it was getting wet and her feet were sinking in as she took her frustration out on the soft snow but she didn’t care about any of it. She didn’t realise when her heel caught the hem of her dress but one second she was stumbling and in the next moment there were a pair of strong and yet very familiar arms around her, holding her steady on the uneven surface.
Khushi opened her eyes to see Arnav’s surprised face mere inches from hers and his eyes asked her if she was ok while they stared at each other wordlessly. He looked down at her lips for a long moment and she looked away, feeling her cheeks grow warm. Her eyes fell on her hand which was still holding onto his collar tightly and that brought her back to earth somehow.
‘Chod ye humme!’ She loosened her grip and wriggled in his arms, half expecting him to just let go and let her fall unceremoniously into the snow. But she was surprised when instead of letting go, he brought his arm round and lifted her up in one smooth move, leaving her breathless.
‘Stop it Khushi, phir se ghir jaaogi!’ Arnav muttered through gritted as he lifted her easily into his arms, ignoring her outraged expression and attempts to escape. He turned towards the hotel and wished it was as easy to ignore the way her hands were curled around his neck, holding onto him tightly despite her verbal protests.
He hadn’t been able to stop himself from following her out here and she’d looked so ethereal in the moonlight with the snow seeming to glow around her that he’d simply watched her for long seconds before approaching her. And then when she’d ignored him and tried to leave, it had annoyed hell out of him till he’d got her to respond.
What was he doing, he asked himself, as it started to snow and he pulled her closer instinctively, as if to shield her from the harmless snowflakes as they made their way back to the hotel. He didn’t seem to have any control over himself anymore and he couldn’t think clearly with her held so close. They reached the stairs and he climbed them before loosening his arms and letting her slide down against his body. He watched her wordlessly, unable to move away as she smoothed down her dress and tried to avoid his eyes again.
A gust of cold air blew some of her hair into his face and he breathed in its sweet scent for a few seconds before reaching up and brushing it away slowly. Her hair had all come forward and now he moved it back silently, feeling almost drunk as he gave his fingers what they wanted, letting them linger on her warm cheeks for the longest time. She stared up at him in confusion, breathing fast, trembling under his touch and Arnav felt something inside him snap.
He simply stopped thinking as he tangled his fingers into her hair and tilted her face up to his. He didn’t think about the madness of his actions as he leaned forward and placed light kisses across her cheekbones, down the side of her face, stopping only for a second before he gave in and took her lips with his. He tried to be gentle but he’d wanted this for longer than he could remember and when he felt her lips part under his, he couldn’t help way his mouth clung to hers roughly, moulding her lips to his own.
He didn’t think about the consequences as he felt her respond to his kiss with her whole body, moving so there was no space between them, her hands going up around him, stroking his neck, burying themselves in his hair. He didn’t think at all; he let himself get completely lost in her and there was no other sound for a long time except for their ragged breathing as they clung to each other like two people who were drowning.