‘Snowy Adventures..’ Part Four

‘Decisions’

 

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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…

 

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‘Snowy Adventures..’ Part Three

 

 

‘Snowflakes and Moonlight’

 

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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.

 

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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.  

***

 

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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.

 

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‘Snowy Adventures..’ Part Two

‘The Unspoken’

 

‘That went well.’ Arnav said as he walked into the room Lavanya and Khushi were sharing, while his eyes unwillingly did a quick scan of the room finding it empty except for La. Why did it matter where she was?! The meeting had gone better than well, it had been almost perfect with just a few minor details to be worked out the next morning; that was what he should be focusing on, not on the feeling of disappointment at Khushi not being here.

Lavanya looked up from the dresses she was hanging up and smiled, ‘Yes it did… and I’m not sure where Khushi is; she wasn’t here when I got back.’ Arnav gave her a look that in the past might have caused her to stammer but now she simply shrugged it off as he spoke in a deliberately cold voice, ‘Maine uss ke baare mein poocha kab tha?’

It annoyed him that he’d been caught out so easily but La didn’t seem surprised or even too bothered as she picked up some toiletries and headed towards the bathroom, ‘You didn’t have to ASR, shayad tumhara chehra hi aisa hai..?’ He could have sworn she was smirking to herself as she walked past him and he frowned, wishing she wasn’t right and he didn’t care a damn where Khushi was.

‘Wait a sec!’ he called before she shut the bathroom door. ‘Don’t forget, the gala event is at 8.00…humme late nahi honi chahiye. And do something about Khushi! Why did you even bring her Lavanya? Woh akeli yahaan kya karegi?!’ Lavanya merely nodded, ignoring his questions completely, ‘Chamkili ki fikar mat karo ASR, she won’t be bored at all, promise!’ Arnav made a noise that sounded more like a strangled curse and stalked out of the room with Lavanya’s quiet laugh ringing in his ears.

***

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Khushi was relaxed and having fun; she’d made a friend – Adi, a 9 year old boy who was here with his parents and equally as bored as Khushi had been. They’d hit it off straight away and now they were sitting in the snow, laughing and building a little snow fort for the snowman they’d already made.

After unpacking and having some lunch, Khushi had been bored out of her mind while Arnav and the others had disappeared for their meeting. She’d thought Lavanya had brought her along for company but now she wasn’t so sure since she didn’t seem to have any free time anyway. Khushi had wandered around the hotel listlessly till she’d found a brochure which boasted of impressive gardens so she’d wrapped up again and gone out when she’d bumped into Adi.

She smiled as she looked around at the way the snow glittered on everything in the evening light; she didn’t know what this place looked like in summer but right now it was so picturesque, she didn’t think it could look any better.

‘Khushi Di, it’s getting late, my mum’s gonna be waiting… thanks for playing with me!’ Adi stood up and gave her a sweet smile and a shy wave before turning and running back towards the hotel, leaving a smiling Khushi to wonder what she was doing here.

Arnav had barely spoken to her since they’d stood in the snow outside the hotel for what seemed like an age. Khushi didn’t know what to make of any of it. Since Lavanya had left and the wedding preparations had started there had been moments when she’d thought something was about to change between them but nothing ever did; there was just that feeling and then the disappointment and confusion… and constant arguments. She felt both comfortable and yet oddly aware of everything when she was around him and it seemed like no matter what either of them did, they couldn’t avoid each other.

Neither had spoken much about their broken engagements; Arnav had noticed Khushi was tense during family gatherings but whenever he’d questioned her about it she’d avoided it or said something to deliberately annoy him but she didn’t know how much longer things could go on like that. She regretted agreeing to come with them on this trip; she knew it was a mistake but she hadn’t been able to say no to Lavanya.

And Arnav wasn’t happy she was here either… the thought upset her and she hated that his opinion mattered that much.

His actions don’t match his words though, she thought suddenly; the way he’d pulled her so close that she’d gotten dizzy and the look he’d had in his eyes wasn’t a look of someone who didn’t want her there… She was just thinking about the way he’d placed her glove with so much care and fixed her hair with gentle but sure fingers when suddenly she heard a voice behind her and froze for a second before scrambling to her feet; ‘how does he always find me?!’ she thought vaguely, trying to compose herself before looking at him.

 ***

‘Khushi tum…’ Arnav’s voice faded away as his eyes went to the 3ft snowman standing a few feet away from her, complete with a smiley face, a bobbly hat and a scarf. Then his eyes went to the fort they’d built around it and Khushi saw his face get a decidedly  ‘what the…’ look about it and quickly tried to explain.

‘Yeh sab humne nahi… humara matlab hai ke humne akele nahi banaya!’ Arnav looked around the snow white garden a little sceptically and Khushi pointed towards where the hotel was, ‘Woh Adi yahi tha lekin ab woh… chala gaya…’ she finished uselessly, wondering why Devi Mayya always landed her up in these weird situations.

Arnav frowned at the name; why did he care if she’d built a funny looking snowman with some invisible guy?! He was only here because it was already starting to get dark and no-one had been able to find her inside; Lavanya had practically dragged him out of his room to go and find her.

He stuffed his hands into his jacket pockets, ‘Whatever,’ he said extra dismissively, trying not to remember the incredibly sweet smile that had been on her face when he’d first seen her sitting in the snow. ‘It’s getting late, come.’ He turned to go and reluctantly adjusted his stride so she could follow more easily.

***

They walked in silence for a few minutes till, as he’d expected, the chatter started, ‘Aap ki meeting khatam ho gayi? Lavanya ji kaha hai? Baraf kitni sundar lag thi hai, hai na? Ghar main sab kya kar rahe honge? Hum kal kitne baje niklenge?’ It was random and incessant and Arnav tried hard to hold onto his patience but eventually he couldn’t help interrupting her.

‘Khushi tumhe koi jawab bhi chahiye ya sirf sawal hi pooch thi rahogi?!’ She went quiet and he smirked to himself till she spoke again, ‘Humme pata hai ke aap koi jawab nahi denge, aap bol the hi kaha hai?! Lekin humme chuppi acchi nahi lag thi, humari amma kehti hai ki -‘ Her voice cut off abruptly and he turned around, not seeing her. ‘Khushi?!’ He felt a stab of worry till he looked down and saw she was in a tangle on the floor.

She was wearing the same outfit as this morning except the jacket was replaced by a dark blue sweater and now as he looked at her in the snow, he saw that her hat had twisted forward, covering her eyes and she was reaching up with her gloves blindly, ‘Arnav ji?! Hum ghir gaye!!’ He shook his head at her panicked tone thinking this was the story of their lives…

He reached down and pulled her hat off to find her blinking up at him with wide hazel eyes that right now looked luminous and slightly sheepish as she regarded him. ‘Hum ghir gaye…’ she said again in a small voice and he had the sudden urge to bundle her up in his arms.

He cleared his throat and made himself breathe normally as he reached down and pulled her up, taking care not to get too close this time. He picked up her hat and shook off the snow before placing it on her head carefully while she watched him wordlessly. They walked the short distance back to the hotel without either of them saying another word and Arnav was relieved when they reached the bright lights of the hotel lobby, the low chatter of other guests easing some of the unspoken tension between them.

He dropped her off to her room and then went to his own to get changed for the gala evening; it was the last thing he felt like doing but it was being thrown by their client and he told himself that Khushi wouldn’t be there so it would at least distract him from the thoughts he was having about her. He sighed as he picked up a towel and headed into the bathroom to take a shower, knowing he was only giving himself false hope when it came to forgetting about Khushi. 

‘Snowy Adventures..’ Part One

Timeframe: Winter 2011, I was praying for it to snow over the Christmas period and I was thinking how it’d be a beautiful setting for Arnav & Khushi too and this story is a sort of a mixed result of that..

In context, it’s around 5 weeks after Arnav & Lavanya broke up & she left for London. Akash & Payal’s wedding prep is ongoing on but this is set apart from all of that.

******* 

Part One: ‘First Snowfall’

 

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‘Bas…thoda sa aur…’ Khushi gave Arnav a murderous look as he turned back with a slight smirk to emphasise his smug words and then carried on walking. She knew he was probably loving her discomfort at being here and reminding her of that fateful journey of theirs to Nainital was just the icing on the cake. ‘ASR’s right Chamkili, there’s a store just up ahead. Hum waha se tumhare liye kuch kapde khareed lenge – ok?’

Khushi tried to tell Lavanya that she was fine and he was just being annoying but her teeth were chattering too much. She saw Arnav look back again and now she could see he was concerned but she glared at him again till he muttered something like ‘so damned stubborn’ and turned back. 

Maybe it was stubbornness that had made her refuse the offer of his jacket but she’d rather freeze! A little voice in her head reminded her that both Arnav and Lavanya had warned her it would be cold and maybe even snow but she hadn’t listened, only bringing a couple of sweaters – although neither of them had counted on this much snow.

As she trudged along behind Lavanya and Arnav, she remembered following him in the jungle and thought it was ironic how back then she’d been dying to see snow… and now after the initial excitement and an hour of being half buried in it, the novelty was beginning to wear off even though it still looked achingly beautiful.

It was ok for him to say it wasn’t much further she thought, watching him stride easily through the fresh snow, not even slightly fazed by it. He looked just as at home here in his thick grey jacket, dark jeans and winter boots as he did in his perfectly cut business suits and she was a little surprised at how well the rough outdoorsy look suited him. Unwillingly she started thinking about the way his hair had gotten that untamed windswept look about it when suddenly a gust of cold air blew some snow up into her face and she shivered as she blinked out of the day dream she’d fallen into.

She pulled the sweater she was wearing around her tightly and couldn’t help thinking a little longingly of his warm looking jacket as her teeth began to chatter again… ‘You should have made her wear appropriate clothes – even socks are better than those shoes!!’ Khushi came out of her thoughts as she heard Arnav arguing with Lavanya up ahead.

‘That’s not fair ASR, she wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t even meant to snow! Aur tumhari baat bhi toh nahi maani uss ne!’ She smiled; feeling pleased that since they’d broken up La had at least got better at holding her own in an argument with him and often scolded him when he needed it, which in Khushi’s opinion was a lot!

She was still smiling till she heard Arnav reply sharply and felt the words dig into her painfully, ‘Toh?! Usse saath laa ne ka stupid idea tumhara tha Lavanya, mera nahi!!’ after which her bad mood was well and truly back. Why should she care what that rakshas said, she thought angrily, blinking away sudden tears and telling herself it was just the cold.

She wished could burn a hole through his thick skull with her eyes; she didn’t even know what she was doing here, she’d only come at Lavanya’s insistence and she didn’t care one bit what he thought! She fixed the strap of the small duffle bag she had with her more securely on her shoulder and wondered how she was going to get through this next day and half.

***

 

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‘Come on Chamkili, we have to get you out of these wet clothes – aur mujse zyaada argue mat karna main bilkul mood mein nahi hoon!’ As they walked into the warmth of the little store on the edge of town, Arnav heard Khushi reply to Lavanya, saying something he didn’t understand through chattering teeth. He watched her follow Lavanya around a little forlornly as La pulled out some jeans and boots and he called her back, ‘Khushi! Tumhara bag mere paas chod do.’

Khushi frowned, hesitating and Arnav rolled his eyes; there was stubborn and then there was Khushi. He strode over to her and took the bag off her shoulder, ignoring her weak protests and feeling a stab of worry when his hand brushed over her frozen fingers. He frowned at her and she looked at him a little confused till he looked away, refusing to think about why he was so worried, ‘Lavanya, make sure the clothes are warm!’ 

He turned away from her and walked over to the counter, picking up a pair of red gloves as he went. This was going to be the worst business trip ever he thought, as he checked for reception on his phone and found none. The man behind the counter confirmed his fears as he said that the freak heavy snowfall had cut some power lines.

He went on to tell Arnav conversationally that they hadn’t had such heavy snowfall in over 20 years and they hadn’t been prepared which was why the roads were so bad. ‘Figures,’ he muttered to himself, ‘yeh toh hona hi tha!’ Khushi was with them so he wouldn’t be surprised if there was an avalanche next. ‘You’re being too harsh… she’ll be fine…’ He frowned at the voice in his head, telling himself he wasn’t really that worried.

To distract himself he told the guy about the hotel they were staying at and was a little relieved when he was told it wasn’t far and that they should have working phones and Internet access. They were meeting with a client and it wouldn’t do to have technical problems even if it was an established company with whom they’d dealt with before. He was meeting the rest of his team there and he hoped they’d already arrived as his mind wandered over to the two women he was travelling with. 

He’d been more surprised than anyone when Lavanya had returned to India a month after their break up and had been ok to carry on working with him. It had been a relief actually; when she was on the ball, she was good at what she did and right now she seemed more level headed than she’d ever been when they’d been together. He’d been happy when she’d told him a little self consciously that she’d met someone in London; someone who’d been a childhood friend and she did seem much happier and more relaxed than he’d seen her in the past.

She’d been back barely a week when this trip had come up and he’d been totally baffled when she said she wanted to bring Khushi with them and refused to budge on the matter. Things had been awkward enough between him and Khushi with the constant clashes during Akash and Payal’s wedding preparations and he didn’t need this added complication on top of it all; it didn’t fit in with his plan of avoiding her – although when had that plan ever worked, he thought with a sigh. 

The trip had been fine till they’d got to the outskirts of town and suddenly all they could see was a fresh white blanket of thick snow blocking their way. Arnav felt his lips curl up in an involuntary smile as he remembered Khushi’s shriek of excitement as they’d got out while he wondered what they were going to do with the car. A few seconds later she’d dragged a laughing Lavanya with her and started throwing handfuls of snow around, watching it fall around her in amazement. She’d looked so innocent and care-free with joy written all over her face, as pure as the snow. He’d watched her, mesmerised for a long while till she started shivering and practicality had kicked in. 

He was still remembering the way she’d looked while the snow glittered around her when he turned and saw her walking towards him with Lavanya and he had to hold back a laugh.

She was walking uncomfortably, wearing navy blue skinny jeans tucked into a pair of sturdy looking, tan coloured furry boots and there were what looked like two fluffy pom poms on each one but that wasn’t what was making him want to burst out laughing.

Lavanya had found her a puffy bright red jacket and although it seemed to be her size, it still made her look like she was drowning. She’d let her hair out of its usual plait and La had added a woolly red hat over it, again with a fluffy pom pom dangling down from each side and all that was visible were the pink cheeks and huge hazel eyes glaring up at him as she pulled on the end of the jacket, trying to make it longer.

He turned away, stifling another laugh as he paid for the clothes before walking over to them noticing there was a red scarf too, peeking out from under the jacket. ‘This is ok naa ASR? I couldn’t find a thicker jacket…’ Khushi turned to Lavanya with a mournful and slightly scared expression, ‘Lavanya ji, aur kitne kapde pehnaogi humme?!’

Arnav tried to keep a straight face, ‘No this is great Lavanya, she looks – great!’ His eyes twinkled as Khushi made a face and tried to fold her arms but it was difficult with the puffiness of the jacket and he couldn’t help the smile that crept onto his face. He cleared his throat and held out the gloves. ‘Yeh lo – don’t argue Khushi!’ he added the last bit as soon as she opened her mouth and she took the gloves reluctantly, pulling one on and then struggling with the second.

He sighed and took it off her, lifting her hand and pulling on the glove carefully while she watched him. She actually looked really cute he thought as he smoothed over the glove and pulled her jacket sleeve over it gently, it was more the look of long suffering indignation on her face that made him want to laugh. He looked up and ignored her surprised expression as he pulled the zipper on her jacket up higher and then he couldn’t help himself from pulling on the pom poms on either side of her hat, to cover her ears more fully.

He reached up and tucked some hair back under her hat slowly, ignoring the tingles that shot through his fingers… at least her face felt warm now and her cheeks were all pink as she stared up at him wordlessly. Suddenly he noticed Lavanya watching them with a funny little smile on her face and he realised what he was doing. He lowered his arms and cleared his throat, speaking in a gruff voice, ‘Come on, there’s still half an hour’s walk to the hotel.’ He headed out of the store, leaving a dazed looking Khushi to follow with Lavanya.

***

Khushi was just about getting the hang of walking through the snow in the boots Lavanya had picked out for her when she walked right into the back of Arnav and gave a little shriek, ‘Aap aise ruk kyu gaye?!’ she asked as she tried to scramble away from him. He turned around before she could fully step back and she wobbled on her feet about to fall till he grabbed her gloved hand and pulled her towards him.

She was wearing gloves and had on the thickest jacket she’d ever worn in her life but she still felt shivery when he held her hand and her heart fluttered uselessly when he pulled her close to steady her.

‘Dekh kar nahi chal sak thi kya…’ The words died on Arnav’s lips as he was suddenly aware of how close they were, their noses just millimetres apart, her misty white breath mingling with his in the cold air. His brain was screaming at him that she was too close but all he wanted to do was get closer and Khushi didn’t seem to be moving either… They stared into each other’s eyes, unaware of anything else around them till Khushi suddenly blinked something out of her eyes and looked up in confusion.

Arnav looked up too and realised it was snowing, the huge white flakes falling softly and silently around them. Khushi suddenly gave a delighted laugh and held her face up to it and Arnav watched in wonder as a bubble of happiness rose up inside him at the sight of her laughing face. There were snowflakes stuck to her face and on the tip of her nose and he had the sudden urge to kiss them all away… He moved closer and Khushi looked at him in surprise with a soft smile still playing on her lips… 

‘ASR, Khushi, tum abhi tak yahi ho? I’ve already had our bags taken up to our rooms!’ Khushi blinked and looked over as Lavanya went back inside and Arnav came out of his trance letting go of the hand he was still holding. He watched her quietly while she moved away and looked around and up at the hotel a little self consciously. He spoke in a soft voice, wondering what he’d let himself in for, agreeing to bring her with him, ‘Issi liye ruk gaya Khushi; we’re here.’