Timeframe: Written mid April 2012, during the ‘swami’ phase of their contract marriage – yes I went there for one random moment! I guess this is how I’d rather have seen Arnav deal with her annoying him… enjoy!
‘Khushi!!’ Arnav looked around the bathroom in exasperation as he called her name for the third time with no answer, blinking against the evaporating steam from his recently taken shower. He couldn’t believe this girl; she’d do anything to get her own way! He shook wet hair out of his eyes as he scanned the pristine white bathroom again and confirmed his suspicions, ‘Khushi Kumari Gupta!! Give me my towel back NOW!!’
‘-Singh Raizada!’ Despite his annoyance, Arnav smirked at the indignance in her voice; he’d known she was out there.
‘Whatever! Mera towel kaha hai?!’ He listened hard and heard the soft chimes of her anklets as she paced outside the bathroom. ‘Humme kya pata? Aap ka towel hai…’ Arnav rolled his eyes at her flippant response and decided enough was enough. He moved to the door and spoke softly against it, knowing she could hear him. ‘Look behind you Khushi, mere kapde bhi waha hai… you see them..?’
‘If you don’t give me my towel on the count of three, I’m coming out like this.’ He gave her a couple of seconds to process that before continuing in a silky voice, ‘Aur tumhe main aaj nahi chodoonga…’
He waited for a minute, hearing more rustling outside but the door remained closed so he started his countdown with a smirk. ‘One…’ He heard her move closer to the door, her anklets were just outside, ‘A-aap a-aise kaise..?!’ She sounded flustered which made his smile widen, ‘Two…’
‘Dekhiya, aap…’ The click of the door opening stilled her voice and Arnav enjoyed the moment of silence, imagining the roundness of her eyes as he held the door open a few inches. ‘Th-‘
Before he could complete the three, an arm shot around the open door, holding his towel and Arnav felt disappointment seep through him for a moment before he made a split second decision. He reached out and grabbed her wrist, pulling her in and using her unsteady momentum to push her back against the door – all before she could let out a gasp.
With his hands either side of her, he looked down into her face, taking in the wide open eyes and the way she was gripping the towel to her like her life depended on it. ‘Wait, what are you…’ Suddenly he was distracted as his eyes fell on the thin scarlet material draped over her shoulder and he felt his mouth go dry, ‘…wearing?!’
He raised his eyes slowly, feeling a heady rush as he took in the positively indecent saree, the barely there blouse, the hair falling like a silky cloud around her face… Even more distractingly, there was the tiniest hint of a smile on her lips and seeing it, he was lost.
A vague warning sounded somewhere in the back of his mind telling him something wasn’t right, but he pushed it away. He was beyond caring and reason as her smile sweetened, promising him heaven and he leaned forward, breathing her in… The towel seemed to have disappeared but he didn’t give it a second thought when he felt her fingers running over his chest and across his shoulders, her feather-light touch searing his still wet skin.
He dipped his head and brushed light kisses across her collarbone, his lips growing more insistent as they traced a path along the column of her neck to her jawline. He felt like he was burning up and he ignored an odd buzzing noise in his ear as his hands wound their way into her hair, making her moan softly against his neck. His fingers had just found the strings of her blouse when he felt the hand on his shoulder tighten and the buzzing grew louder as she somehow shook him really hard, ‘What the..?!’
‘Aap ka phone Swami!’ Arnav’s eyes flew open at the last word and he drowsily scanned Khushi’s overly cheerful face for a long disorientated second; his brain still half tangled up in the extremely vivid dream he’d just been abruptly torn away from. He fought the sudden overwhelming urge to pull her on top of him by rolling away from her and burying his face into a pillow; which did nothing to help because it smelt just like her. ‘Go away Khushi!’
He was talking to the Khushi in his head as much as the one behind him; he was losing it and he knew it because he could still see her in that saree, feel her hands on him and almost taste the silky smooth skin…
He shook his head into the pillow and groaned as he pushed the thoughts away, focusing on how to get rid of the very real Khushi still trying to wake him with that stupid name. His dreams were becoming more frequent in their intensity and yet still enticingly just beyond reach, whilst reality was fast descending into madness with Khushi’s daily antics.
‘What?! Kitni baar kaha hai mujhe Swami mat bulao!’ He sat up finally and glared at her while she hid her face under her scarf in mock fear.
He ignored the tears because they were fake – her real tears came silently and painfully, not like these, with her silly scarf pressed to her mouth… If he had his way he’d rip that scarf right off her head and burn it! ‘Kya? Aise kya dekh rahi ho?!’ How did she do it so convincingly, he wondered, looking at those dewy, softened eyes and tried to calm himself, knowing it was what she wanted.
He decided enough was enough and it was time to act; he’d had almost a week of this nonsense and he wasn’t going to take it any longer. He moved to the edge of the bed and noticed her step away skittishly before she stopped and forced herself to move closer again, plastering the ‘perfect wife’ mask back onto her face. Arnav’s eyes narrowed as he zeroed in on the slight chink in her armour and he suddenly knew what would unsettle her most and possibly help him end the insanity.
He lowered his legs to the floor, deliberately choosing the spot right where she stood and as he looked up, he flashed her a rare smile, noting the way she swallowed and tightened her grip on the ridiculous scarf.
‘Kya baat hai Khushi, why did you wake me? I was having the best dream…’ He kept his voice low and soft but he couldn’t keep out the wistful tone as his mind wandered back. It didn’t matter though, because her mouth fell open and she looked around before holding up his phone which he’d guess had been buzzing the whole time.
‘Aap ka phone baj raha tha…’ He saw a quick flare of uncertainty in her wide eyes before it disappeared and he reached out to take the phone, enjoying the way her lips trembled as he let his fingers linger while his darkening eyes never wavered from hers.
‘Thanks… aur meri chai?’ Khushi’s eyes widened further at his velvet soft words and she blinked slowly as she pointed blindly behind her, ‘Table pe…’ Her voice sounded unsteady but he didn’t let her gather her wits as he stood up in one fluid move, leaning close enough that their bodies were almost touching.
She moved back instantly, just as he’d known she would and his hands shot out, holding her arms and pulling her close again. ‘Ek minute Khushi!’ She was breathing fast and he could tell from her eyes that she wanted to bolt but she couldn’t without blowing her act so she waited and he smiled again, knowing she was caught.
He let one hand stroke her arm lightly while he used his other hand to slowly unwind her scarf from where it still rested on her head.
‘Kya bula thi ho mujhe? Swami right?’ Khushi nodded and his smile widened as he carried on conversationally, ‘Great! Phir toh tumhe waise rehni hogi jaise mujhe accha lagta hai… right?’ She nodded again slowly, looking wary and a little confused, ‘H-haan lekin..?’ She was distracted and completely thrown by the soft, persuasive lilt to his voice but she still protested when he took the scarf off fully and held it away from her, too high for her to easily grab.
He saw a familiar fire flare up in her eyes as she stretched across him trying to reach it and something inside him responded to it in ways he didn’t fully understand. Her eyes met his for one scorching second before she stopped abruptly, gritting her teeth as she lowered her arm and looked away.
Arnav lowered his arm a little and held the scarf up between them, fighting down the urge to grab her and shake her till she responded.
He took a breath, ‘Mujhe bilkul accha nahi lagta ke tum yeh dupatta tumhare sar par pehno. I hate it. Iss liye aaj se isse tum aise nahi pehnogi – understood?’ He looked her straight in the eye and kept his voice as measured as he could but there was no mistaking the steely undertone, ‘Mujhe koi Gopi nahi chahiye Khushi… so no dupatta, samjhi?’
He watched her process his words and try and find a way around them but he hadn’t yelled or thrown a fit so it was harder for her and he used that time to smooth out the material in his hand and slowly place it across her neck where it belonged. He hadn’t been lying; however short and painful this marriage was doomed to be, he wanted the real Khushi, not some simpering idiot and the scarf was a small start. She hadn’t said a word and as he smoothed the scarf over her neck, he realised she was watching him closely.
Time stood still again as their eyes met, and something burned between them when his fingers slipped and stroked across her collarbone. They both froze and Arnav was reminded of his dream which hadn’t done justice to the feel of her skin and he was suddenly tempted to put his lips there and carry on where his dream had so abruptly ended. Khushi seemed to read his eyes because she stepped back, looking flustered and somehow he reminded himself that the aim was to throw her off balance – not to make his own head spin.
‘H-hum aap ki dawai le kar aate hai.’ Khushi seemed to have almost fully recovered her bland, ‘perfect wife’ expression and was turning to go but he stopped her again, not quite ready to let her off the hook.
‘One sec!’ She turned, questioning, and he closed the gap between them smoothly, ‘Tumhare gaal pe..’ he murmured, as he brushed an imaginary speck of dirt off her face slowly, watching as her lips parted and her cheeks went red. ‘Aur haan, paani mat bhool na. I’ll need a drink…’ he let his words sink in as his fingers stroked their way down her cheek, ending up at the point where her lips met.
He gave her another disarming smile and his eyes gleamed as Khushi shuddered before muttering something incoherent and dashing for the door, causing Arnav to bite back a sudden laugh as he watched her go.
The amusement faded as he walked over to the wardrobe and pulled out a towel; his actions almost mechanical while his thoughts focused elsewhere. As he turned and made his way to the bathroom, his mind whirled with tantalising fragments from his dream as well as thoughts on what had just happened; the annoying scarf covering half her face was gone and he hadn’t heard the word ‘Swami’ since she’d first woken him up.
They were only small victories but remembering the way she got tongue-tied whenever he got close, he felt confident that even though the lines were getting blurry, he could still beat her at her own game. He was determined to end whatever insane charade she’d started and decided that whatever happened he’d end up the winner as always…