“Hissa?!” Khushi stared at Arnav as the trowel dropped with a clatter to the ground.
Arnav somberely nodded his head, “Aakash demanded that we legally split up the business.”
“Par kyon? Aisa kya ho gaya?” Khushi was shocked.
Arnav shrugged or rather attempted to shrug nonchalantly, “Oh nothing – just that I am too overbearing, dominating and bossy.”
Khushi stared at him, an impish twinkle flared in the corner of her eyes, “So tell me something new,” she said blandly.
Reluctantly Arnav grinned and shook his head; he put his arm around Khushi and pulled her down to the swing; he sighed, “Yeah you are right, I am all that and more and have always been. But the thing is Aakash too has become very ambitious of late but what is disturbing is that he has been cutting corners leading to many an altercation between us,” Arnav shrugged, “Of course there have been instances of raised voices and difference of opinion but then I can’t just let him keep making silly mistakes can I?” he defended himself.
He turned to Khushi, “Remember the incident with Sethi brothers?” Khushi nodded, “Well he was the one to handle and push the deal – not that I blamed him, everyone makes mistakes but we should learn from our mistakes as well,” Arnav ran his hand through his head frustratedly, “But he just doesn’t seem to learn and yet his ambitions are sky high,” he got up and paced the poolside restlessly, “He keeps taking on these deals without bothering to do his homework and the result is we have to not only suffer losses but the brand ARD is tarnished as well,” he set his lips grimly, “And I am not going to stand for that no matter what,” he fumed.
Khushi heard him out in growing dismay, she knotted and unknotted her fingers; this was a delicate matter, his brother, her sister – she was very much aware that one small misstep, one loose comment and she could well become the target of his anger, “Mamaji se baat karke dekhiye?” she offered hesitantly.
“Oh do you think I haven’t tried?” Arnav turned on her irritated, “Mamaji has no control over either Mamiji or Aakash.”
“Ok ok,” Khushi backed down, “what exactly happened today?”
“Oh today he came with some foolhardy proposal to set up a branch at Dubai,” he snorted disgustedly, “It was such a shoddy proposal, no realistic timelines or costings, I refused pointblank restraining myself from retorting ‘Mumbai branch toh sambhali nahi jaati’ with great difficulty and yet he just lost his temper,” suddenly ASR swallowed, he raised a helpless shoulder, “Phir usne apna hissa manga.”
Khushi’s heart went out to him; it was clear that Arnav had skipped telling her the more hurtful bits, pata nahi kya kya bola hoga Jijaji ne? She got up and put her arms around him, he held on to her for support, “Ab aap kya karenge?” Khushi asked him, willing him to verbalize his bottled emotions.
Arnav moved away, “Hissa doonga aur kya?” he said rather bitterly, “Uska hissa aur Ankit ka bhi,” he declared.
“Ankit!” Khushi was surprised, “Ankit kahan se aagaya beech main?”
“Haan Ankit ka bhi,” Arnav was adamant, “In another ten years or so he too will be coming and saying the same thing to me, I am not risking it,” he thrust his hands into his pockets and stared out at the stars in the sky, he swallowed, “Devansh ke saath toh risk lena hi padega na.”
Khushi shook him, “Kya bole jaa rahein hai, hume toh kuch samajh nahi aa raha hai.”
“Haan Khushi, you wouldn’t understand, the kind of adulation, the kind of awe Aakash always held me in, he almost worshiped me and now to suddenly have him turn against me, hear him talk like this,” he was silent for a while and admitted reluctantly, “Regardless of whether his accusations are true or not, it hurts Khushi, it hurts; who knows kalko Ankit bhi aayega aur apna hissa maangega, I don’t think I could take it,” his lips thinned and he grimaced angrily, “Main aise hone nahi doonga, main pehle se hi intezaam kar doonga,” he vowed.
“Arnav please don’t drag poor Ankit into this, woh kyon aisa karega, you know he is crazy about you,” Khushi tried to pour oil over trouble waters.
“Haan jaise Aakash was,”Arnav snorted derisively, “Sab badal jaate hain Khushi, sab badal jaate hain,” he shook his head self-derisively, “I can’t believe how naïve and overconfident I was,” he looked at her, his lips twisted, “You should have called my bluff then.”
“Called your bluff?” Khushi was bewildered, “Kya bol rahein hain? Kuch samajh nahi aa raha.”
“Remember when I insisted you marry me or I would break up Payal’s wedding because Aakash could never refuse me anything?” Arnav reminded her and watched in morbid satisfaction as the penny dropped; he nodded his head, “Yes, uski baat kar raha hoon,” he shrugged, “My confidence in Aakash and his loyalty towards me was very likely to have been highly misplaced, even then.”
Khushi shook him gently, “Chhodiye na, kya phir wohi puraani baat lekar beith gaye,” she shook her head, “Haan I should have called your bluff not because Jijaji par aapka confidence misplaced tha but because aap aisa kuch nahi karte, you were just bluffing.”
Arnav raised an eyebrow, “Oh really, tumhe kaise pata?”
“Hum jaante hain,” Khushi hugged his arm, “Ab chhodiye na wohi puraani ghissi piti baatein, aapko toh pata hai na ki humko yeh sab achcha nahi lagta (aur ASF (are you here?) ko bhi bahut bura lagta hai) aur baat kahaan se kahaan pahunch jaati hai.”
Arnav squeezed her hands and nodded his head; just then the children burst in along with Poo, “Sorry, hum nahi rok paaye aur in dono ko,” she panted.
Smiling, Khushi shook her head, “Its ok, after all it is their time with him now.”
Clearly having forgotten (and forgiven) their skirmish with ASR just a little while ago, both the kids clambered all over Arnav, while he dug out his mobile and held it out teasingly, “Kisko chahiye?”
“Arnav!” hissed Khushi quite out of patience with him, how on earth could he expect his children to get the message that his phone was not a toy if he blew hot and cold alternatively – abhi daant rahe the aur abhi wohi cheez encourage kar rahein hai – And she couldn’t even scold him in front of the children.
She threw up her hands and walked off in a huff – bachchon ko discipline aise sikhaya jaata hai? She looked back at the three of them by the poolside with Chotti in Arnav’s arms and him using her as a missile to attack Devansh amidst much ear-piercing shrieks and squeals of delight. She shook her head, oh well at least Arnav got his bachpan back with them and forgot his cares, even if for a little while.
She sighed and went off to brief Nani, who she knew would be equally worried.
“Ka hua Chotte ko, Khushi bitiya?” Nani questioned worriedly, “Aakash bitwa kyon nahi aya ghar?”
“Haan Nani, wohi toh batane aayein hain,” Khushi sat down beside Nani and put her arm around her, “Nani, woh…woh, Jijaji ka inke saath kuch kaha suni ho gayee aura b woh apna hissa maang rahein hain,” she squeezed Nani close to her, willing her not to take it too much to heart.
Nani sat still for a few moments, she sighed and adjusted her pallu, “Humka isi cheez ka darr tha; eehi sab toh Manorama ki den hai Aakash bitwa ko,” she shook her head, “Khana bana banaye mil jawat hai na toh parosne main koi dikkat nahi aawat, par shuru se koi kaam karna, khet taiyyar karna, beej bona, din raat kheton par kaam karna, anaj ugna, phir roti banana, ooo toh koi nahi sochat hai na, bechare humre Chotte,” her voice broke; Khushi too swallowed and hugged Nani.
As promised, Anya came back the next evening along with Aisha to meet Sherry. Aisha had of course blown her top (making up for Anjali’s low key response – mostly because Anjie didn’t know the ‘whole’ truth), “What! I don’t believe this Anya!” she threw up her hands in disgust, “I can’t leave you alone for a weekend?” she raised her hand, “Haan haan theek hai theek hai, I agree you did a good job by saving Sherry but then wasn’t it carrying things too far to stay the night, surely he had some friends, relatives who could have stayed over?”
Anya pouted and crossed her arms, “Arre bola na, his mobile was stolen and he had no number on him, and instead of asking how Sherry is you are busy chewing my head off,” she shook her head derisively at Aisha.
“Oh I don’t need to ask how Sherry is,” she shot back, she waved a hand at her, “One look at the smirk on your face is enough,” she sneered.
Anya straightened affronted, “I am not smirking!” she protested.
“Oh yeah?!” Aisha was unconvinced as she glared uncompromisingly at Anya; she giggled, “What was Sherry’s reaction when he realized it was you? Did he fall at your feet and declare ‘oh savior! I am but thy slave from this day henceforth?’
Anya too giggled and blushed, “Well almost,” she said irrepressible as ever.
Aisha laughed but with foreboding; she wouldn’t rest till she had extracted all the gory details, “Oh well,” she sighed, “I guess I will have to give my ‘approval’ to this relationship,” she said in an exaggerated lugubrious manner; then more seriously, “He does seem sweet on you,” she admitted.
Anya threw her arms around Aisha, “Yesss,” she said triumphantly.
Aisha pushed her away and shook her finger admonishingly, “But that doesn’t mean I am convinced! And what is all this nonsense Anya?” Aisha scandalized, “Did I get that correctly, or were you just blathering when you said you kissed him?” she shook her head, “You really are too much, first time you meet him alone, at night and you go and kiss him!”
Anya was unrepentant, “I had no choice, he insisted on calling me a kid and frankly I was quite sick of it, so I,” she shrugged a bit self-consciously and then grinned, “But now I am sure he doesn’t think I am a kid,” her eyes softened and her heart fluttered hoping against hope – maybe he would call her a ‘kid’ again, soon very soon – she fully intended to carry out her threat and use her Brahmastra as often as required. She blushed at her wayward and forward thoughts even as her eyes twinkled.
“Well how was it?” Aisha was curious, “Wet and tasteless, I suppose?”
Anya shook her head, “Sweet, very sweet,” she said softly a faraway look in her eyes.
Aisha looked resignedly at her friend, oh well they did make a handsome couple and besides Sherry was a great guy and of course Anya was no kid; but she did hope Sherry wasn’t just playing around with Anya’s feelings and look at her all red as a tomato, “Heyy stop dreaming and let’s go and meet him shall we?”
“Yes yes of course,” Anya was more than eager.
Sherry was waiting, rather impatiently for Anya and as the clock ticked and the visiting hours slowly chugged ahead, he became more and more restless. He was curt and short with the other visitors who did come to wish him a speedy recovery; they thought he was in pain and hence irritable, but Sunita knew better.
She was now getting worried. Earlier when Sherry had been so upset over the age difference, she had deliberately made light of it and encouraged him to think positively – anything to wipe off that devastated desolated look off his face, the white lines of strains around his lips. But then she too had been guilty of nurturing a hope against hope, that it was a just a passing fancy, with time he would move on or at that he would have over time be more prepared to accept that the girl had moved on and that the matter would die a natural death.
She sighed and shook her head – aisa toh kuch bhi nahi hua – he was still madly in love with Anya. In fact, the whole night he had been calling for Anya, she thought with a pang. She swallowed and smiled resignedly to herself, of course he was going to call out for the person who wasn’t there! No need to feel upset and insecure, she was and would always remain his mother and there was no way anybody else could take her place. Just as she couldn’t take the place of Anya in Sheru’s life.
She sighed as dread filled her heart, no doubt Sherry was serious but was Anya equally serious?
Her gut instinct screamed yes, but then Anya was young and naïve, who knew the depth of her feelings?
Would they be able to stand the test of time?
Only time would tell.
Click here for Chapter 307