Sheetal raised her eyebrows and said sweetly, “Sure ASR anything you say darling; but tell me where is your precious wife? Too scared to show her face here or are you ashamed of her?”
ASR took an aggressive step forward, “Sheetal I warned you…”
“Hume maaf kar dijiye,” a soft voice cut in, “traffic ke wajah se hum late ho gaye.”
Both ASR and Sheetal turned and gaped at the vision in front of them.
Khushi stood there looking stunning in a red figure hugging evening gown. Her hair was piled up in an elegant hairdo, while two tendrils framed her delicate face. She wore minimal makeup and Di’s set was the only jewelry on her. Before leaving she had kept her mangalsutra at DM’s feet.
Khushi moved forward and slipped a cold hand into Arnav’s clenched fist. He relaxed at her touch and squeezed her hand hard, his warmth flooding her. His awestruck gaze did wonders to her shaky confidence and a blush stole up her cheeks, making her look even more ravishing.
Khushi greeted Sheetal, “Namaste Sheetalji, aapse mil kar bahut khushi hui.”
“Khushi! Really!” Sheetal said disbelievingly.
“Ji”, Khushi smiled, “That day at the mall, our meeting was very short and I never got a chance to speak to you. Actually I have been very keen to meet you.”
“Keen to meet me! But why?” asked a puzzled Sheetal.
“Oh I have always wondered what kind of an idiot would throw away a priceless diamond just like that,” said Khushi, airily.
Sheetal opened and closed her mouth like a goldfish, while Arnav looked on enjoying the catfight.
“Oho, hume maaf kar dijiye,” Khushi facetiously apologized, “ I didn’t mean to call you an idiot, waise bhi I will be eternally grateful to you as thanks to your foolishness woh heera ab humara hai,” Khushi threw at Sheetal.
“Uh ho! Not only has the ugly duckling undergone a metamorphosis, but she has claws too, well well.” Sheetal made an attempt to recover. “Oops sorry dear,” Sheetal sneered, “I forgot you wouldn’t know the meaning of “metamorphosis” would you? Tell me Khushi how do you communicate with ASR, he is such an angrez and you don’t know a word of English.”
Arnav crushed Khushi’s fingers and opened his mouth, but Khushi put her other hand on his and spoke first, “When two people love each other, language is redundant; the eyes speak volumes and our hearts know what the other is thinking.”
Sheetal laughed cuttingly, “Seriously ASR you actually married this filmy female! My condolences; Ok Khushi tell me what are ASR’s eyes saying right now and what he is thinking,” Sheetal challenged.
Khushi turned to look at Arnav and looked deep into his eyes while the crowd melted away; after a while she said softly still looking at him, “I am afraid Sheetalji I cannot tell you what he is thinking, you see it is rather personal but his eyes are saying…shut up Khushi,” she slowly blinked at him.
Arnav drawled softly, “Shut up Khushi,” while his hand snaked out and crushed her to his side. Much to Khushi and Sheetal’s shock (and even his own!), he bent his head and placed a brief but unhurried kiss on her lips.
Ignoring Sheetal’s sharply indrawn audible breath, Arnav held out his free hand, palm up, “Khushi,” he said huskily, “I believe this is our song, come dance with me.”
Khushi looked at him stunned, she had been so immersed in Rabba Vey that she had missed that the song Teri Meri was now playing and now Arnav was offering, no, demanding to dance with her.
Sheetal cackled scornfully, “Come on ASR, you don’t dance; you are just saying that to provoke me.”
Without taking his eyes away from Khushi, ASR spoke, “Once again you are wrong Sheetal, main Khushi ke saath hi nahi, uske isharon par bhi nachta hoon and with great pleasure too,” Arnav whisked away Khushi to the dance floor leaving behind a flabbergasted Sheetal with an egg in my face expression.
By mutual silent consent, Khushi and Arnav gave themselves up to the music as they once again recreated magic on the dance floor, eliciting a loud applause from the gathered crowd. Embarrassed, Khushi turned to leave the dance floor but to her astonishment, ASR shook his head and drew her back into his arms as the next song began to play, ‘Jadu hai nasha hai’.
He held her close and whispered gruffly, “You are looking beautiful.”
Khushi blushed, “Design kiska hai?”
Arnav nodded his head, “Did Reeta choose it for you? I didn’t mean it to be put up for sale, must have forgotten to put a note; you see I was so busy dancing to some ones tunes! But looks like your best friend has been busy too,” he winked.
Then seriously, “I designed this specifically for you after Payal and Aakash Sangeet ceremony; I knew it would look superb on you.”
She blushed even more and in an attempt to bring her erratic emotions under control she said teasingly, ‘How come you decided to dance today, after all you don’t believe in all this stuff? At Nainital, I requested so much, yet you still refused,” she pouted.
Arnav looked at her, heart in his eyes, “Khushi tum jaanti ho, I don’t dance; but today I had this overwhelming irresistible urge to hold you in my arms and this was the easiest way, that is, without arousing your prudish sensibilities.”
Overcome with emotion, Khushi moved closer to him, thankful for the dim lights and the slow music.
Sheetal did not bother them again and Khushi had wonderful time that evening as she was flooded with compliments. Each time someone complimented Khushi, ASR would look on with proprietary smile, making Khushi blush even more. Arnav stuck to her side the whole time and didn’t leave her hand even once (well maybe during dinner!).
Unwilling to have the magical evening end, Arnav took Khushi to his special garden; the night was warm but there was a cool breeze blowing and there was a full moon with a clear sky twinkling with stars. Under the benevolent gaze of their parents, Arnav reassured Khushi of his love, “Khushi, I hope you know Sheetal doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“Like once upon a time I didn’t mean a thing?” Khushi ribbed.
Arnav pulled a wry face, “You know what I mean Khushi?”
Khushi feeling contrary, “No I don’t Arnav, tell me.”
Arnav got up and paced up and down restlessly, “I was young when I met Sheetal, I was away from my family for the first time and then I fell ill; I was at my most vulnerable when Sheetal used me to reach for her goal, a rich life partner. I was deeply disturbed by not only her treachery but also my inability to judge people; I lost faith in people, in myself and lumped everyone in the same category; that all were selfish and all had ulterior motives. I focused all my energies to earning money; I became a ruthless machine, turning human only for my family, sometimes only Di. I was in a place where I was in full control and everything happened according to my plans.”
Arnav paused his pacing and pulled her up to him and continued, “And then you fell into my arms and turned my nice, orderly, predictable life upside down. The more I was attracted to you, the more I resisted, I was afraid, both of not being loved for me and of being targeted as a prize catch; I was determined not to fall into either trap; those mean things I said were more for my benefit than yours; but no matter how many times I reminded myself, I was helpless against the treachery of my own heart.
Khushi smiled and hugged him, “Hum jaante hain, but nevertheless it feels good to hear it.”
“Par Khushi, how do you know about Sheetal?” asked a puzzled Arnav.
“Woh, I met her at the mall the other day, and then Di told me today, Kritikaji, her friend who is also Arunji sister told Di that Sheetalji was asking about you and intended to go to the dinner,” said Khushi.
“Achcha so you came charging to save me from her,” said Arnav wryly.
“Save you?! No, I came to save Sheetalji from being murdered, aaj agar hum nahi aate na toh you would have been in jail for manslaughter,” Khushi scolded Arnav.
Arnav laughed, “So that means you did come to save me! No loss if I had murdered her; good riddance to bad rubbish,” he said his face darkening.
“Achcha achcha ab ghar chalein?” Khushi distracted him.
In their room, after they had changed, Arnav looked around searchingly, Khushi looked at him questioningly.
Arnav said, “Where is my bed, you messaged me you were going to buy me a bed?”
“You just can’t leave well alone can you?” said a riled Khushi, “now that you have reminded me, say ‘sorry’ warna….”
“Warna kya Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada?” challenged ASR.
“Warna you are sleeping on the couch,” huffed Khushi.
“Really?” Arnav crossed his arms, “Aur kaun force karega mujhe? You? You can’t even make me move from this position.”
“Achcha toh I will sleep on the couch!” declared a thoroughly riled Khushi.
“And I will just pick you up and put you on the bed,” Arnav’s smirk grew broader.
Khushi glared at him, she swiftly turned and grabbed the poolside door key and waved it in his face, “I will sleep by the pool, like the olden times and lock the door too!”
Arnav sighed resignedly and opened his mouth, but Khushi cut in first, “Ab hume gussa aa gaya hai, kaan pakkad ke sorry boliye.”
“Kaan pakkad ke!! Aur main?” Arnav exclaimed.
“Ji haan kaan pakkad ke,” Khushi was adamant.
Arnav made a wry face, shrugged and said “OK.”
He raised his hands and held Khushi by the ears and pulled her towards him and murmured, “I love you Khushi” and kissed her gently; he repeated the sequence several times and then said, “kitni baar bolna hai?”
Khushi melted and gave herself up to the magic of the moment, though her last coherent thought was ‘Laad Governor ne sorry nahin bola.’
Click here for Chapter 32