“Kuch nahi,” he said curtly without meeting her eyes.
Khushi swallowed and backed off. “Khana kha lijiye,” she said stiffly waving her hand towards the tray by the poolside.
He shook his head, “Bhook nahi hai, I am going to sleep,” he moved towards the bed,” but Khushi was there between him and the bed in an instant, her eyes flashing dangerously, “Khana kha lijiye varna,” she said threateningly.
“Varna kya?” he too shot back aggressively, his lips drawn into a thin ugly sneer.
Khushi glared at him, “Varna I will dump the entire tray on your head,” she promised.
Arnav stared at her seemingly stumped and strangely the whiteness around his lips eased and the faintest hint of the familiar glint appeared in the cold eyes. Emboldened, Khushi nodded, “Yes and don’t doubt it, I will do it too,” he still hesitated, “Don’t worry,” Khushi added snidely, “Khana maine nahi banaya.”
The fight seemed to go out of him; he obediently turned to the loaded tray but then he threw over his shoulder, “Don’t think I am eating because you are insisting but because I know I should eat otherwise I will fall sick and I don’t want to take anymore ehsaan and pity from you,” he sat down to what was clearly his first proper meal in many days.
Khushi stared at his back stunned, inhe kya ho gaya hai? Why is he talking like this – ehsaan, pity – what in DM’s name is the matter with him? Kahin kisi ne jaadoo tona toh nahi kar diya, she thought wildly (where was Kamlesh Khabri?), yeh Arnav hi hain na?
Tears clogged her throat and she made to turn away but his voice, cold voice arrested her, “Why are you standing there like a statue? Aren’t you going to eat? Ya phir you want to fall sick and force me to take care of you?” he sneered.
Despite his tone and his choice of words, the fact that the words seemed to have been wrung out of him inexplicably eased Khushi’s pain somewhat – Arnav was there somewhere, gagged and shackled by ASR. Silently she joined him and she too managed to swallow her dinner – her first too in many days.
Khushi stole a look at his face – it was as if carved in stone, yet there was a vulnerable haunted look, which caught at her heart – something was wrong! Seriously wrong – but what dammit?
Had he…had he found someone else? She thought wildly unable to fathom the reason for his statement the other day or account for his sudden disappearance and now this lost, haggard and bleak look. Khushi was torn between her own hurt, panic for her family and a sudden glimpse into Arnav’s deep internal conflict – despite herself, her heart went out to him; she hurriedly began clearing up the dinner things to distract herself – don’t say anything that will just add fuel to fire, woh aisa kar hi nahi sakte, how can you even think such a thing? She castigated herself, besides he is exhausted can’t you see that dammit? Leave it for now, abhi bahut late ho gaya hai, let him rest for now…
“Have you fallen for somebody else?” the words slipped out even as she was lecturing herself on the necessity of maintaining a cold dignified silence.
Arnav stopped in his tracks and swung around to glare at her fiercely – if looks could kill, she would have been ash by now.
He was upon her in two quick strides, he grabbed her by the arms and shook her like a ragged doll, “How dare you Khushi?” he spat at her, “Tum aise soch bhi kaise sakti ho? What the hell do you think of me?” he was furious.
“Toh aur kya sochti?” she defended herself, “You drop a bombshell out of nowhere and then you disappear without any intimation, what the hell am I supposed to think?” she retaliated strongly.
“Agar itne saal baad bhi you think me capable of such a ghatiya harkat,” Arnav angrily waved his finger into her face, “I have nothing more to say to you,” he was clearly insulted by her preposterous accusation.
“Par Arnav, aap hi bataiyie phir hum kya soche?!” pleaded Khushi teetering at the end of her tether, would she ever get a straight answer from him?
He thrust her away with a force, so much so, that she staggered and would have fallen but for the support of the swing, “Think what you like,” he said coldly as he withdrew into his shell and turned away.
Yeh issue nahi hai toh phir kya problem hai? Khushi’s heart sank as a new worry struck her, “Aapki tabiyat toh theek hai?” she called urgently.
“Yes, as always, I am in full and complete control of my mental faculties,” he intoned sarcastically.
Khushi rolled her eyes, “Nahi I didn’t mean that, though I always had doubts about that,” she couldn’t resist adding snidely, “what I meant was your physical well being…” she trailed off, “I mean you didn’t go to London for a doctor’s consult, did you?” she asked fearfully.
He half-turned and threw her a mocking sneer, “No and don’t dig out out your whites just yet, I am not dying anytime soon,” he gave a hollow laugh but there was an unmistakable ring of truth in his voice; he turned away once again.
Instant relief flooded Khushi and she collapsed with a thud onto the swing – he was fine and he wasn’t involved with someone else! Yet there was something definitely wrong, but what?
Patience Khushi, patience, she told herself sternly, trying to control her unruly thoughts and tongue – don’t nag him anymore, he will surely come out, sooner or later, just let him be, at least let him recover from jetlag, she cautioned herself. Look at the larger picture – your hurt, your ego, your self-respect is not bigger than Arnav, the children, the family, she reminded herself sternly.
But again that was easier said than done.
Unmindful of the strictures, Sankadevi was clearly spoiling for a fight, “What did you mean when you said you don’t love me anymore?” despite her attempts at keeping a check on her emotions, her voice shook, “Aap kya expect karte hain humse?”
Arnav looked at her blankly, “Expect from you?” he repeated incredulously and then shrugged uncaringly, “Nothing,” he said dismissively before turning to the bed, but Khushi wasn’t done yet.
His expression, his tone, his body language everything just raised her hackles, “Matlab?” she screeched infuriated, “Aisa toh hai nahi ki roz subah sham you keep chanting ‘I love you I love you’ or that I was forcing you to say it and you wanted to put the record straight!” her voice rose.
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” Arnav said stiffly.
“There must have been some objective, some motive, some agenda, otherwise what is the need to make such a declaration?” she swung him around forcefully, “What the hell do you think of yourself, one fine day, out of the blue, you just drop your bombshell and then vanish without a word and now just get away by saying ‘nothing’,” Khushi’s eyes spat fire, “Aapko batana hi padhega kya hua hai,” she clutched his sweatshirt.
ASR glared furiously at her as he forcefully detached her hand, “Mujhe tumhe kuch bhi batane ki zaroorat nahi hai Khushi Kumari Gupta Singh Raizada,” he voice was cold as ice.
Khushi froze and stared at him in shocked surprise as he grabbed his pillow and strode off to the now uninhabited children’s room next door (Devansh had a room of his own while Chotti slept with Nani ever since Poo had gotten married) and shut the door with a bang. The loud click, as the bolt shot home, was the final nail in the coffin – pale and dry-eyed, Khushi sank on to the bed as her legs gave way.
Click here for Chapter 401