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