Note : See you later…

Hi Friends,

You must be wondering if I’ve disappeared into the middle of the earth.  I assure you I have not, and I am still very much around. Although, it saddens me to tell you in the maelstrom of real life entanglements my love for writing got left behind somewhere. It’s still there, however has taken a backseat now in front of other priorities. Which is why I sat down to write this note because till today I receive requests, messages for the continuation of the story, or reposting of my other stories. I wish I could say I’ll be back soon, I truly do. Alas, there are some new developments in my life that require far more attention than writing at the moment. Happier developments which will never be complete without your good wishes. My writing will forever be a part of me because it gave me a renewed confidence through my ability to express with words. Plus, I have gained a vocabulary that often makes me appear cryptic to my friends and family. Thank you for always supporting my stories, and always pushing me to continue to type away at my keyboard.

Maybe one day I’ll be back. For now this is a simple see you later.

Take care,

-S

 

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Chapter 7 : Inevitable entanglements

Spring . 02. 05. 2012

Microbiology was a dreary subject according to Khushi. Dull, and extremely tedious, she found it hard to stay awake in the class, her only savior was Nicholas. He was a good friend to keep a tab on her when her eyes flickered close. She would yawn, stretch, eventually returning to her haze as the professor rambled on about minor details. Details which were likely to show up in the finals, but since microbiology was her least favorite subject she was more than happy to binge through the lectures the night before exams.

“Why aren’t you taking down notes?”

Tilting her head to the side, Khushi hid the half-yawn clinging to her lips. “Because Nick, you are a great friend. You will send those notes to me, won’t you?”

Giving up on a sigh, Nick continued to type, “stop day-dreaming about that professor. He is forbidden.”

Wincing at his lecturing tone, she hid her smile. “The forbidden is more tempting. Think about how Eve was tempted…”

Shaking his head with admonition, he continued to type away on his laptop. “Tempted and then banished. He is a professor, you are a student. An ethics professor, I find that a little ironic?”

Glancing at the clock, Khushi began to wind up her stuff. “What I find more ironic is your jealousy.”

He looked slightly dazed by her comment.“I have a girlfriend. I think you seem to have forgotten her.”

Their relationship turned more platonic than romantic over the months. Although Khushi claimed Nick still harbored hidden feelings, he refused to give in reminding her their friendship was more valuable to him. The contrasting personalities balanced each other, and any shortcomings along with frankness to talk about it only strengthened their bond.

“Alexia is cute, but I’m hotter. Gotta hand in my essay. Will catch up later.”

The professor dismissed class right on time, as always Khushi was the first one to spring from her seat. In a hurry to submit her paper, she dashed through the long line of student piling up at the nearest entrance. She had only fifteen minutes to make it to Professor Mitchell’s office to hand in her final paper. Also her last chance to see him before the term came to an end. While she had worked as a lab assistant, they had not spent much time together since supervision was done by her seniors. A realization she had disliked after much-needed consideration of whether she wanted to pursue anything with a man she felt attracted to, putting aside the fact he was professor. A student and professor relation was not only against the university’s moral code but her own as well.

Still, the simmering attraction trumped them all.

She barely made it through the door to see him packing his brief case.

“Khushi…”, he looked at his watch then at her with a frown. “I have to leave now.”

Dragging out her paper hidden beneath a pile of books, Khushi handed it to him. “I came to hand in my paper.”

“Was that all?”

No, it was not all she wanted to say, but it was all she would say at the moment. Despite the scenario’s she built in her head, the disorienting awkwardness faded any pleasantness she hoped for. Still she began with a nod in respond to his inquisitive gaze. She turned around to head out when he called her name.

“Khushi, would you like to have coffee with me tomorrow?” He asked.

“Why?”

“I think I would like to know more about you. I don’t have time now, but tomorrow would work…is that okay?”

Nodding quietly, Khushi left the room unsure of what to feel. There was excitement, but guilt as well. She terribly fought the compulsion to feel awful by reasoning Professor Mitchell would no longer be her professor in a week. That way of thinking only worked for a while, until Nick’s words began to kick her nerves again. The potential in pursuing something with Abeer could land her in love, or in a hot, illegal mess. Both of which were frightening to say the least. Perhaps, she could take some risks in life, risks she wanted to take not ones she was forced to, ones that would forever shut the door of every memory attached to her marriage.

——–

Arnav eyed the resignation letter before returning his gaze to Aditi. She appeared serene, and composed opposite of the sight he wanted to see in the woman, possibly he had judged her far too quickly. She wore her facades far too well for anyone he knew.

“I won’t ask why…”

“But…”, Aditi completed for him.

“While I do accept your resignation, there is a two-week notice policy in place here. We need some time to find a replacement until the two weeks are over you will have found one and trained her as well.”

She forced her jaw to unclench, “Sure. Anything else?”

Arnav shook his head just about dismissing her as he returned his attention to his work.

“We do worse to each other even when we try to help each other. I just think its wiser for us to be at separate place than to be a constant thorn in each other’s path.”

He just about exploded hearing the compassion in her voice, “I did not ask for an explanation.”

“I know, but I still chose to give you one. Not because I feel guilt, rather I think we should part on a good note. You deplore me because you have every reason to. For the sake of our friendship I needed to say these words.”

“I believe our friendship ended the day you threatened me.”

She did not yell, or argue, a submissive tone was enough to convey her utmost feelings. “I had no choice.”

“So you’ve said to me, ”, Arnav crossed his arms and leaned against the chair,“ I believe when Khushi learns of the truth she will need more than a few words to sum up the tragedy you’ve turned her life into.”

“She is my sister.. ”, she said pragmatically. “She will have to understand.”

“For the sake of your sanity, I hope she does too because so far she believes her life meant nothing to you. You made her a marker of a deal, nothing could be more demeaning.”

“I will not explain myself to you.”

“Yet you stand here, Aditi?”

“I would have left earlier, Arnav. I did not want to abandon you midst the new line preps.”

A slight grin touched his lips, mocking her, “strange, I thought you’d already abandoned me.”

“You make it sound like all of this was my fault!”

Glancing at the clock, Arnav resumed his contrite expression.“This is a work place, I’d rather not discuss our personal lives here.”

“As you wish.” Aditi said, dryly.

Her knees barely held together to make it out of her office, she fixed the creases in her skirt and straightened off to her desk. The past few months had taught her this world had no place for weak souls. Hence, to achieve her goal she had to sever a few ties, because to attain power sometimes even relationships had to manipulated as pawns.

She spotted her reflection in the hallway mirror, ruefully the shreds of hope she’d clung to were beginning to disappear. Redemption did not seem as close as she once thought it to be. While Arnav had always been a good friend, she misused his friendship conceivably his feelings as well for a motive that served her own reasons. But Khushi, she had done everything to save her, maybe she too wouldn’t see it that way. Maybe to her, she would seem self-centered in her attempts to center the chaos in their lives. All she wanted was to hold onto her father’s dream, to salvage the hope he had seen for his daughters. To keep his dream alive she had to subdue the remorse. The company was his blood and sweat, while it was close to ruined today she had plans to reclaim what belonged to her.

Aditi frowned, pinching the bridge of her nose to stop the room from spinning. The irony in her life was not lost to her, only she had ignored it on occasions hoping for complacency.

“You want me to believe you have good intentions at heart? All it sounds to me is like a threat.”

Vikrant Gupta shot her a meaningful glance over his shoulder, “Don’t be emotional. I am not threatening you, all I am saying is Khushi and Dev would be good for each other.”

She stood calmly even as her insides quaked, violently. “What you really mean is, she would help you seal the deal.”

The merger would be good for his ailing company. “He is a good man. Promised me he would keep your sister happy.”

Glad the nearest vase was ten steps away from, Aditi was nearly tempted to smash it across her uncle’s head. “He is nearly in his forties for god sake! Khushi is a child.”

“Which is why I don’t wish to involve her in this.”

“I regret the day my father trusted you to take care of us. You manipulated us and forged our signatures, stole every penny of my father’s hard earned money, letting it all go to waste just to satisfy your sick greed.”

He was blackmailing her, but there was no other option to convince Aditi. The girl was made of grit, she picked her battles refusing to cower in front of adversity. She was a problem for him, hence he had to placate her before he could reach Khushi.

“If I was greedy, I wouldn’t be offering you a position in the company? I understand you have sentimental value attached to that place, and I want you to work hard by my side to bring it back to its original position.”

“It’s either Khushi, or the company?”

Vikrant chuckled, reveling the dread in her voice. “Aditi, the facts are quite clear…you have no other option than to convince Khushi for this marriage. You and I both know what it means for you to work in your father’s company.”

“If I choose neither?” Stiffening, she decided she would choose neither.

“You’re not a fool, far from it…you are a smart woman perhaps even shrewd as me. If you fail to hand me a complicit Khushi, I will be forced to file a case for the loan you took for your and Khushi’s education. And, I’ll be sure to make every penny count.”

“If my parents had not taught me to respect my elders, my tongue would be spewing the vilest terms to describe you dearest uncle.” Her tongue was not saying it, but in her mind she was already killing the man in one hundred  different ways.

——–

Lalit went over his will with his lawyer to update minor details only meant to trivialize his wife after his death. He was aware his days were numbered, the idea of death was welcoming to him as he watched his sons continuously berate each other hoping to gain control. There was Akriti too, silent but watchful of his every action, she wanted him to drop-dead any moment.

“Are you sure you want those stipulations?” The lawyer asked returning the papers to his briefcase. “Mrs. Raizada will not be pleased.”

“Believe it or not, Akriti is rarely pleased with my decisions.” Leaning back, he crossed his hands behind his neck. “I don’t owe that woman anything.”

The lawyer appeared transfixed. “She may contest her rights. And your sons they will tear each other apart.”

“It is time they showed some responsibility. The company has been my dream for years I won’t let them take it down the drain.”Lalit scowled as he gave a knowing smile. “They’ll just have to work it out.”

“Good day, Sir.”

As the lawyer made his exit, Lalit pondered upon his words. His sons, Arnav and Sameer, both dark horses in their own rights refusing to reigned by anyone apart from their own minds. Yet, he wanted to work out their differences through communication, it maybe with hatred or respect both were welcomed according to him. While he wanted both to prove themselves capable to lead his company, somewhere he hoping to reconcile the siblings at this point of his life.

There was nothing like a deadly disease to usher in years worth of regret. He was beginning to understand his mistakes to the point where it occurred to him in the obscure desire to rule he had forgotten his will to live his life. No, it was not a pedestal worthy realization, nor was redemption significant for him.

Where vengeance had kept him young all these years, regret started to replace it just as his body was getting ready to quit the race. It could be quoted to his days being numbered, and since he was not god fearing death did not terrify him, instead remorse beganthe day he visited Asha’s grave. The moment had been paradoxical and reverential at the same time. There had been no plea, no requests, and definitely no accusations. A simple hello to his past. The next day his diagnosis was made by the doctor and a couple of months later bed-ridden which could be equated to a good riddance in his family’s eyes.

Today, all he could think about was Asha.

To console his stature, a mockery was made of her.

Her face haunted him as if she were the pinnacle upon which his last days rested.

“If you must pine, do it in private. You look like a blithering dog salivating for a lost bone.” Akriti set her nail file down, taking a seat on the small couch.“Why was the lawyer here?”

“He was here on my request.”

“Why?” Genuinely concerned, she found his scathing glare unappealing. “Lalit, my son…”

“Our son Akriti, you were always a handful. When you ran away from home, you tarnished your father’s name, when you married meruined my life. Now you will not spare your son either. Why must you ruin everybody’s life?”

“I don’t care about anyone except my son.” She rallied, polishing off the curve of her nail.

“He happens to be my son as well, in fact they both are my children.” Lalit gushed, sincerely.

“Arnav is not your son!” She barked.

“The question here is not about Arnav or Sameer, rather my beautiful wife.” He watched her brows gather in confusion, “You have no other interest than your own, Akriti. While you may use Sameer’s name, you’re concern is your own future.”

As if awaiting his confirmation, she dreaded his next words.

“I made few changes regarding what I want done to you. After all, my wife deserves a befitting fortune.”

Ignoring the scathing tone, she shook away the anger. “You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my father!”

“True, none of us would be here if it weren’t for your and my father. What a day that would have been for us to have never met. You need to be grateful I gave you a shoulder.”

“Grateful?” The words barely escaped through her gritted teeth.

“Yes, start being grateful to me Akriti. Or, I’ll begin to remember just how much I despise  your existence and forget you are the mother of my child.”

Her eyes turned away with dispassion. She did not need a reminder to know the extent his hatred ran for her. Their marriage was a farce, and they both played their parts well. What stung now was the remainder, with it came the distinct awareness of having lived a lie their entire lives. Pretending to be someone who they were not; two people unable to love each other.

As simple as it could be, it was the understanding of wastage of two lives.

——–

The sky was blue, the air was crisp and the sun was shining gloriously.

Having being seated on the patio, the hustle of on-going pedestrians, traffic, and chirping of birds were all sounds soothing to the ear of a nerved Khushi.  She kept her eyes trained on her cup of coffee to refrain herself from gawking at the man.

“How are you finding London?” Abeer, placed his cup down, watching the hot liquid slosh against the rim before settling down. “Must be a nice change of pace from the usual.”

“It’s nice, not anywhere like home.” Stirring her latte, she sighed looking around. “Although, it’s starting to feel similar now not so frightening as before.”

“You must miss your family.” He asked.

A flicker of hesitation betrayed her indifference. “A sister is all I’ve got left. ” Now she no longer had her support either, “my parents passed away long time ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I am sure it must make it harder to be away from you sister.”

Her head swiveled towards him, her spine stiffening at the  constant reminder. “It was at first, almost impossible, gradually it faded to acceptance.” Smiling, she let go of hesitation, “please none of this anymore, the day is wonderful, you are gorgeous, and this coffee is delicious.”

The subtlety of her flirtation amused him. “Thank you?”

The sudden music caught their attention. A live band was playing in the park across the street, streams of people gathered around to listen hoarding around each other.

“Do you like music?”

A nod had him grasping her hand into his own.

Her heart began to beat more rapidly, as they rushed across the busy road barely making it to the pavement alive. “Daredevil much?”

Chuckling, he lead her to the live music.“Next time I shall warn you before I put your life at risk.”

“That’s all I ask for.”

“Do you know how to dance?”

“Waitwhat” pulled into his sturdy arms without a warning, she played catch-up with his quick steps. He was a good dancer, she on the other hand felt mediocre. It took sheer bravado to keep dancing  with him

They were the only two dancing, within seconds other couples followed their lead.

“What are we doing, Abeer?”

“Dancing.” He insisted.

Khushi smiled, giving him time to adjust to her question before she repeated herself. The preservation she had built up to this moment felt like the tip of the iceberg as she watched his face. Impressed with his ability to live in the moment, but just as wary of his recalcitrant nature. She was still working him out in her mind, rationalizing her steps, while he was already dancing away with her.

A effortless glide that could  have her twirling into trouble, or blissful oblivion.

——

Thank you so much for the overwhelming response on the last chapter. It feels great to know that many of you still remember the story. I had concluded none would remember. It feels wonderful to be welcomed back with such generosity. Thank you once more.

Hope you like the update. 

As always I look forward to your thoughts.

Chapter 6 : Distance

Her caprices were beginning to complicate his life.

He was still standing in a claustrophobic apartment which could very well have been a walk-in closet at home. It was a shame Khushi was immune to luxury, the pathetic sinkhole she called liberation did not do her justice. Lavish comforts would have suited her, however her imprudent decisions only confirmed his suspicions, his bride was still a juvenile, woman-child.

“Why are you doing this to me?” Never breaking eye contact, Khushi jerked her arm free.

“Nothing is being done to you. You are a simple inconvenience.”

“I fail to understand what our marriage will bring to you or Aditi.”

“Don’t worry that small brain of yours. Focus on your studies. Perhaps even call your sister?”

“She is dead to me!”

Perturbed by her tone, he sighed. “Words can’t be taken back once said, and regret can’t fix the past once passed…speak to her once maybe you won’t hate her so much afterwards.”

“Why do you care if I patch up with my sister?”

Shrugging, he moved away to create distance between them. “I honestly don’t care at all, just thought you were lonely out here.”

His indifference made her want to bang her head against the wall, or least of all his.

For the past hour they were going around in circles and, he appeared in no hurry to partake in her misery, rather he was lauding himself on doing everything except lessening her confusion. She was no closer to the truth than she had been when he first glanced her way in Sheesh Mahal. His piercing gaze was still stubborn, and insinuating as if the very act of looking at her was a chore he had to endure.

“If I am such an inconvenience…why don’t you just leave me be?!” Frustration peaked, she jabbed her finger against his chest. An irrational move but she was beyond calculating her actions. “For some reason you seem to have this image of me being alone and immature, like I am some roadside trash everyone can toss anywhere they please, but let me remind you I am not alone. I am not lost just because I have been left stranded by my loved ones. I am not bound to you. If I am willing to bend to your rules, I am just as willing to throw everything away to save myself.” Poking him in the chest, she continued her depleting rant. “I will not live in fear of you!”

“Except …”, Arnav advanced towards her, coiling around her. “your strings are in my hand.”

“Your ignorance will be your downfall.”

She was only reiterating the truth to him, it didn’t amuse him. “To tell you the truth there is no fun in standing at the shore, the water seems more…lively?”

“I pray you drown!”

She refused to cower in front of his impertinence. “White wouldn’t suit your flamboyant nature.”

“As if I would ever mourn you.” Restless, she sprang free from his hold.“Fine, I’ll do whatever you want, but one of these days all these lies will catch up to you! I’ll patiently wait for that day. Also…” Holding up her index finger, she waved it in front of his eyes, “don’t you dare bully me anymore!”

“Don’t me defy me.”

“If you won’t intervene I won’t have to defy you.” Forcing a straight smile, she glanced at him. “You know something…you deserve Aditi. She is manipulative and cold-hearted just like you. You both don’t have any feelings!”

“Feelings? Seriously. ”Arnav drew himself up from the wall, and took a bracing breath. “Now you’re just provoking me.”

Throwing her hands up in frustration, Khushi muffled a scream against her sleeve. The man was grinding into her last nerve. She was the fool here to pick a battle with the impossible. At times he was begrudgingly attentive as if her one move could alter his entire world, and then there were times like these when he was cold and unresponsive towards things that should have made him pensive.

In short he was a tumultuous, tsunami, smothering her breath one at a time.

“It seems clear to me…” Khushi retorted with an indignant sputter, “men like you have an aptitude for picking on the weak.”

The smile was so sudden, he could not stop it. “Now that you mention…it is indeed a favorite pastime of mine apart from eating nails for breakfast, and scaring children at nighttime.” He wore a strange expression, one that said she would never understand him. “Now that we are both done with our little ice-breaker, pack your things I’m going to drop you home.”

Home? I’d rather you not call those four walls a home, it is nothing but a reminder of the mockery my life has turned out to be courtesy yours truly!” She allowed her heavy eyelids to fall as she tried to ease her mind.

The sick feeling unfurling within made her head spin. Everything was changing, she could not stop it once again. What she had been would forever be lost among the what was coming, and somehow the thought of it made her want to weep. Still, she chose to stand strong because there was no option other than surviving.

——-

She could have loved him quietly till the inexhaustible chaos in her mind ceased, but it no longer was her thing. The sudden waves of pain did not bother for she stopped holding things—letting herself go only to wind up in the middle of the sea. It should have terrified her, instead  she found the sea quelled her fears since she knew despair too well—it still resided in her heart.

It was infuriating to be in a constant fight with herself. There were times she felt too deeply, next she wanted to forget everything. She worried she was turning into an entirely different person. Uncomfortable with her own skin, incredibly disconnected with the world. A woman carrying a torch, hopelessly vying for the love of the man who she had pushed away with her own hands.

The thought of it disgusted her, nothing could sound more pathetic.

“I worry when I find a gorgeous woman like you sitting alone in a bar.” Sameer slid onto the vacant stool and ordered himself a drink.

“Sameer…” Aditi bit back the contempt, allowing her shoulders to fall away. Too exhausted to be concerned about her disheveled state. “You’re not following me?”

“I always come here. If you don’t  believe me the waitresses here can fill you up on my tab”, he eyed a slender figure clad in a black dress, she smiled back at him.

Following his gaze, she caught sight of the woman, “she’ll be winding up on your tab, I suppose.”

“Maybe”, picking up the glass, he emptied the continents in a gulp. “ if I’d preferred them with a husband.”

Aditi looked up, curious with his observation.

“She had a ring on her finger when she walked in here, slid it off before her shift.” Smirking, he swirled the remain ice cubes in the empty glass, “rookie mistake.”

“You’re not new here, are you?”

“I’m the man you read about on the back of washroom stall doors.”

Aditi reluctantly smiled against his infectious wit, “the heart-breaker or the one night stand?”

“Leave a man some respect.” He retorted, watching her gaze oscillate between her phone and the snifter in her hand. “How about you?”

She swallowed the drink against his query, the cool liquid burning at the back of her throat. “Neither.”

Her eyes once more settled on the phone. “ You know my brother is an idiot.” Clearing his throat, Sameer proceeded to explain himself. “Raizada men have inherited fickle blood by a right of heritage.”

“I never gave you permission to pity me.”

“Respect, Aditi, not pity…respect for willing to bear with a Raizada.”

She felt something— between the bewilderment, she found a soundless understanding dwelling between them.

She raised her glass and toasted, for he had never spoken finer words in her presence till today. “Now why are you being so attentively understanding towards me?”

“Because no one better than me knows expectations can lead to brutal disappointments.”

Aditi recognized the kindness in his voice, and saw a stillness in him she perhaps had overlooked. All these years she had seeing him as how others portrayed him willing to overlook his other qualities. For example; he was a good conversationalist. “Maybe I never expected anything, therefore I should not disappointed?”

“That’s not fair to you.” Sameer said.

“And that’s not fair to life, we must suffer, frighteningly so…because no one wakes up to a perfect life. Everyone has to stumble, and fall, otherwise we’d never be able to recognize our own capabilities. Sameer, we all have a purpose in our life, some sail out in the sea, some get to stand by and watch over them.”

Sameer gazed at her, then with a deliberate smile he asked, “what’s my purpose, Aditi?”

Aditi sensed the terseness in his voice, quickly realizing their conversation had become far more personal than she had intended. “To ruin your brother’s life?” She jibed.

Chuckling, he emptied another glass. “A villain’s role, I like it. Despite what you think…I don’t intend to harm Arnav I am just indifferent to him.”

“Why do I it  hard to believe you?”

“I wish it wasn’t that hard for you to believe me.”

Refusing to let the night become a battle between their conscience, she smiled wide enough to convey her gratitude. “Thank you for making this night a little less lonely for me.”

——-

Keep an eye on both.” Akriti set down the phone, falling back against the chair with a smugness that keep her ailing heart young.

In all the years of her marriage to Lalit, she gained a valuable skill from him—before trusting others, she had to trust herself. Trust her instincts, her abilities to reign. She also knew a misstep meant risking AR Designs, and nothing was more important to her than gaining it after the demise of her pitiful husband. Lalit’s nature was well-known to her, and she already knew what was transpiring between those deteriorating brain cells; more than willing to name Arnav the next CEO, he wanted to reiterate to the world she was nothing more than a trophy wife and Sameer, his useless son. If he was adamant, she was just as willing to use any means to remind her husband that seat belonged to her son far more than the filth he undertook his wings.

It still haunted her to this day when Lalit had placed another woman’s child into her lap asking her to accept it as her own. She had fought him, refused, left the wailing child on the floor, tormented by her own miscarriage. In the end Lalit had won, and today Arnav was like a relic rehashing every injustice her husband had vetted out to her afraid to forsake his reputation.

——-

She turned the key in the ignition, reversed out and began the slow trek through the city. Nausea climbed her senses, repulsion made her head heavy; how could she let a man rule her heart? The swarm of emotions were like a tidal wave she never saw coming, slowly seeping in the realization she had destroyed the one relation she had come to care for her in her life.

Going by her instinct, and pure envy, Aditi dialed his number. Stunned to hear his voice, she expected him to hang up once he realized it was her on the other end.

“How is she?” She started with the safer question.

“Safe and sound. Hates my guts, but I guess it’ll pass.”

“I wish I could see her once.”

“She doesn’t like either of us particularly well at this moment.”

Blinking away the wetness, Aditi concentrated on driving. There was much more she wanted to ask him, but it would have made her vulnerability transparent to  him.

“What is this, Aditi?” He asked the question hovering in both of their minds. “The last time we saw each other, we both made it pretty clear we were going to stay away from each other’s lives. Now, you call me?”

“To check up on Khushi.” She hurried to clear his confusion.

“Well, she is fine.” He responded, dryly.

“Okay.”

The line went dead in the next second.

She continued to drive through the empty roads praying the numbness would resolve to a hardness she needed to move on. Regardless, tonight would be the last lonely night spent in isolation from tomorrow onward, Arnav Singh Raizada would be just another man in her life .

——

First, let me start by saying my apologies for disappearing into the blue, and now randomly appearing again. There was so much packed into the last few months along with a hectic trip. Although I always planned to return eventually since I did not wish to leave this story incomplete.

Second, I cannot tell you how hard it was to write after a long break, but I am sure you already figured that out after reading this chapter. I had to re-read the earlier chapters many times to continue with the story.

Third, I know I left off with planning to make this blog private but after such a long break I don’t know how many readers are still interested in the story. For now this blog will remain open for the time being. Also please unfollow the blog if you’ve lost interest because I do not want to trouble anybody with constant notifications. Thank you.

Lastly, enjoy?

Would love to know your thoughts as always.  Take care 🙂

Chapter 5 : The carousel keeps spinning

The rainbow-colored umbrella dangled alongside her left thigh, thin droplets trailed downwards, creating a damp spot on the carpeted hallway.

Khushi rummaged through her bag for her apartment keys, she found them at the bottom squished between a pack of gum and a lone earring. Usually she kept them at the top, but after her strap broke in Mr. Mitchell’s office, she’d hurriedly pushed everything back inside uncaring of where she placed each item.

Abeer—No. Mr Mitchell sounded more safer.

So far life was feeling a lot like a merry-go-round, and instead of feeling thrilled, she wanted off the ride because as a child she hated amusement park rides. In general, they scared her, the fear of falling off did not diminish with age and she still felt like her five-year old self wanting no part of the risky activity.

Turning the lock, she stepped inside tossing her wet hair to the side.

The apartment was moderately small; one kitchen, one tiny bathroom and a living room which was being used as a bedroom. It was the only place she could afford the rent. Luxury had to lose to a sense of self-worth. Yes, she could always hear her neighbors quarreling through the thin walls, the burner refused to work in the mornings, the heating system ran for only a few hours and to top it off the apartment across from her always caused nauseating aroma’s to seep through her door.

Dingy, stinky, claustrophobic and the list was endless, except she did not care as long she could throw Arnav’s hefty pride back on his face.

Since he wasn’t here she would make do with the thought of him running wild after learning she had cut all her ties with him.

She left the sodden umbrella near the door to dry, placed her bag there as well and switched on the lights midst planning her dinner. Pasta—she snorted at the sight of Arnav standing in flesh before her.

Had she spoken too soon?

Perhaps she was hallucinating.

A shake of the head didn’t make him disappear.

A pinch on the arm only made her wince.

“Maybe you’d like to pinch yourself again?”Arnav offered, bored of her antics. “After that we can have a conversation like normal adults.”

She was not imagining him, Arnav was actually standing in her apartment. The shock of it was tremulous enough to shake away the stupor lasting for only seconds.

“How did you find me?” She blurted out.

“I have a better question—why did I have to find you, Khushi?”

The answer was she wanted to create as much distance as possible between them. At the moment all her efforts seemed in vain considering he had located her, and was now glaring at her as if he wanted to burn a hole right through her by a simple stare. Although there was nothing ‘simple‘ about it, the vacant eyes were devoid of ire, but still disturbed her enough to make her entire body writhe with discomfort.

“For a man who runs a huge company you’re quite slow.” Pushing off her sneakers, Khushi turned into the kitchen with her damp socks. “It’s obvious I wanted to get away from you. Everything I did was to make sure there were no traces of you anywhere in my life, yet you always manage to make me realize no matter how far I run you will find me. Even so, I admire your skills because here you are.”

Ignoring his scathing glare she began to fill the kettle with tap water, when he abruptly wound up at her side startling her.

“What part of our agreement was hard for you to understand?” His voice strained, mostly irritated.

Setting the kettle down harshly on the stove, she whirled around to him.“Everything! ” A sneeze halted her only to return more furious than before. “This generosity banner you wear is crap, and you are a monster who ruined everything!” Exasperated, she elbowed him aside, huffing all the way to the corner where her single bed lay.

“If you should recall, I struck a bargain with you.” He said a few feet away from her.

She sneezed again, with a suffocated whisper she asked, “you ran all the way here because I changed a few things?”

He felt his temper fray at her carefree nature. A few things? “You move out of the apartment. Your phone is god knows where. You stopped using the back account. You—you write the same goddamn letter every week to me!”

Shrugging, she refused to feel guilty. “You said I had to write to you. Nothing else had been specified”.

“What about the—”, Arnav stopped at her fourth sneeze in the past three minutes. “Where do you turn on damn the heater?”

“You can’t. The heating system turns on at 10 for the entire building.”

Arnav wondered if she was purposely testing his patience, or she was naive enough to not understand his anger had reached its bandwidth by now.

“Why are you so stubborn?” He snapped.

She didn’t care to defend herself under his heated gaze for any explanation she offered would not be taken as sufficient reason for copping out on his unilateral decision.

A few more sneezes made her light-headed enough to plop down on the bed. She wasn’t giving up on the fight, just needed to sit down for a moment until her head stopped spinning.

Her hair still wet, her socks soaking, and the frumpy sweater was no help in keeping her warm.

She concluded he left when she didn’t hear another sound, only to see him emerge from the kitchen with a steaming cup in his hand. When he forwarded it, she expectantly glanced at him debating whether to take the hot liquid as a ceasefire attempt from his side.

“I didn’t add poison to it.” He grated, “I should have though!”

“Then why are you giving it to me?”

Because you are my damn responsibility, Arnav nearly screamed.

“I need you in your senses when I explain to you how our arrangement will work, so in the future…You would remember not to defy me.”

Khushi snatched the cup from him just to amuse him.

“And take off those socks!”

“I’m not going back.” She said calmly.

Arnav rubbed the heels of his hand against his tired eyes. To catch a morning flight, then to spend the rest of the day locating his estranged wife was a plentiful evening, now causing him to run low on patience.

“Where is this pride coming from? Because, as I far as I remember I paid a hefty sum in exchange for your compliance.”

Tears burned in the back of her eyes at the humiliation.

“Am I lying?”

She decided right then if he died, she would never plant flowers on his grave. Never.

“Go to hell!” Her voice turned as frigid as her eyes.

The words had meant to cut her right where she was vulnerable. Since he was in no mood to babysit her, he needed her to yield because her new-found confidence may have enthralled her, but to him it was a plain nuisance.

She brooded in silence. Sipping the hot drink between intervals of seething glares digging into his back. The brooding profile, rigid and unmoving, his legs apart as if he were bracing himself, all signs to stay away from him for he was capable of anything. She wondered if women ran away at the sight of him and not flock their feathers. He could have been good-looking if he stopped scowling, screaming, sneering, in general if he breathed in a little more air and a little less of his arrogant pride. But why should she care? There was one thing she was curious about though, “I’ll return…”

At her hoarse whisper, his head jerked around with renewed interest.“I gather you have a few stipulations from your tone.”

She emerged from the bed in her ridiculously disheveled state, still wobbly on her knees. “Why did you lie to me?” Strangling the mortification in her chest, “you wouldn’t have sent Aditi to prison”, she finished.

There it was the crux of her frustration. For months she wondered why her sister plotted her marriage to the man she was madly in love with. At first the thought appalled her, gradually it made sense and then seeing them together, splashed on various websites, articles, clippings made it easier to believe she was the third wheel in their relation.

“I would have—”, at that time he would have carried through on his threats had Khushi left. “I would have sent her to prison.”

Shaking her head, Khushi refused to believe him. “You are in love with her.”

He did not affirm or deny her observation, instead retreating his icy glare he sighed, “don’t hate her to the point where you won’t be able to forgive her or yourself.”

“Hate is very small emotions for what I feel. You and Aditi made me a puppet of your sick games for power. Why did you have to marry me?”

“You should give your sister a call.”

Khushi sneezed, “that is not the answer to my question.”

Feigning a yawn, Arnav returned to his brooding.

“I will only leave this apartment when you tell me the truth, Arnav. The entire truth!”

What could he tell her? Her sister had blackmailed him into a marriage, he did not want or that she nearly escaped a harrowing marriage to a man who would be around her father’s age had he been alive. In both scenarios she became the pathetic victim others had to save. A hunch told him she would never appreciate being the prey with violence he could see stirring inside her.

Watching her he wondered if Aditi misjudged her? The young woman standing in front of him with her chin jutted in a gesture of fierce defiance, would have never complied with the decisions made for her had she known she had a choice. Then again, he knew better than to second guess the extent people were willing to go to protect their loved ones. Aditi felt protective of Khushi, and he knew the endless pursuit to vindicate the innocent came without morals and culpability of blame.

“Okay, the truth is because Lalit Raizada’s sperm won the race, he was unjustly saddled with a bastard whom he would have preferred to forget. But that doesn’t necessarily make him a father does it now?” He tried for an amused expression to deflect the burning in his chest.

Astounded, and flushed, Khushi held back her embarrassment.

“Does that answer your question?”

“Sameer is your step brother. That’s not true.”, She exclaimed. “You… Aditi knew this?”

A sardonic smile lifted his weary face. “The bunny has finally found the dangling carrot.”

His reply only confounded her more. When she said next surprised both of them, “rabbits and carrots are all bugs bunny’s fault. Truth is carrots cannot sustain a nutritious diet for rabbits… Think of it like junk food for them. Quite harmful! ” She said, disdainfully, sidetracked by the throbbing in her head.

He stared down her nose with blistering contempt. “Just think how harmful the entire truth is if just a smirch of it is this ‘harmful’ for the bunny”.

Khushi stiffened, lifting her chin higher at his chilling tone. “Don’t treat me like a child.”

Yes, she was a child despite what she wanted to believe, according to Arnav she’d been lured into a brutal web of lies. Somehow he managed to keep her away from the contempt and himself, and preferred to keep it as such much to her chagrin.

Arnav seized her arm in a firm grasp, drawing her close. “Listen closely because I’m only going to say this once”, his tone was glacial, “you have an hour to return to your old apartment because afterwards your name will be withdrawn from the university, then I will drag you back to Dehli… All the way to Sheesh Mahal!”

Khushi did not know whether he was pulling a bluff, or trying to scare her into a corner as he’d done in the past. Regardless of what she thought him to be doing, she didn’t have an upper hand to fight with him, thus she decided she would admit defeat but only to her own terms.

—————

Lalit Singh Raizada was known for two things; AR Designs, and his marriage to a notorious builder’s daughter. Akriti Sharma, now Akriti Raizada was a runaway bride slapped onto his wrist by his feudal father who believed marriages between partners strengthened business ties. In an act of rebellion Lalit worked hard and accrued enough shares and the good opinion of board of directions to merge the businesses into one fashion house completely demolishing the construction company to satisfy his years of resentment for being saddled with a graciously imprudent wife. Unfortunately for him, neither fathers weren’t present to see his accomplishment.

After Sameer was born, he shifted to another house to accommodate his lavish and philandering lifestyle. Most of the women he brought home were equally boisterous and dishonorable as him, but one day Asha, a twenty-two year old school teacher fell for the grandeur of his name which boasted of his impeccable character, in reality she had fallen a prey to a lecherous man’s lust. He treated her just like the rest and disposed of her after learning about Akriti’s pregnancy. A few months later, Asha showed up with a newborn in her arms, forcing him to take drastic measures to salvage his deteriorating image and business.

“Mrs. Sasha was looking exceptional today. She had the waiter wrapped around her little finger.”

“Did you perhaps have him wrapped around your legs later?” Lalit asked mildly.

“Not later, definitely earlier part of the evening.”

He gazed into those scintillating eyes and felt nothing for the amoral woman.

“There is something I would like to discuss with you.” She glanced sideways at him.

“No, sweetheart, don’t make dinner for me”, leaning back against the frame, he smiled, “the nurse takes care of all my needs.”

“What I wish to speak about is Sameer. Don’t you dare sideline my son, Lalit! He should own that company”. Akriti furiously worked on the pins holding together her abundant curls. “That bastard of yours does not deserve a penny of my company”

Frowning slightly, Lalit studied the voluptuous beauty she was, time hadn’t marred her much only made more inconsiderate towards others. Still filled with deliberate insolence she vowed to make his every breath agonizing, even when his days had become numbered.

“Darling, he is my son as well.”

Her eyes searched his inscrutable features through the mirror, “a child created by trash is not considered a child, it nearly makes him an animal…Like a loyal dog.” She made a muffled sound, “loyal dogs are good guards, not invited inside the home and allowed a seat on the table.”

Staggering on his trembling knees, Lalit made his way over to her. “Let me help you”, he pushed aside her hand and begin to unlatch the emerald necklace for her. The derisive smile tugging at the corner of her lips goaded him, a blithering fool she’d called him on their wedding night. Reaching out to brush his knuckles across her cheek, he gently tightened his hold on the necklace nearly choking her. “You always thought you were above me with your impeccable manners and ageless beauty. A pure, black-hearted, fickle b*tch is what you really are”, applying more pressure he pulled her head back, forcefully inclining her neck to meet his gaze. “If you become a roadblock for either of my children I will personally kill you with my bare hands.”

Her voice came out in a strangled whisper, “you can’t…”

“Shut up, Akriti! One of them will earn the title before I die.”

She tried to push him away but to no avail.

His eyes glinted with amusement, loosening his hold on the frail jewellery. “Smile, sweetheart. Fear doesn’t suit your lovely features.”

Frazzled, Akriti coughed against her dry throat. She touched her neck, her cheek, holding her hands against her thundering heart. Aware of his steely gaze, she began to fix her disheveled state for the sake of doing something other than panicking. Throwing the necklace on the dresser, she pulled off the earrings, next went the rings. “I wish you dropped dead right now!”, She expressed before indignantly walking to the adjoined restroom.

————-

I was in the process of writing this chapter, but I know I will not be able to finish it before the new year. I decided to post what I had written so far and continue forth with the next chapter.

Thank you so much for your always sharing your thoughts. It is always a pleasure to read your comments.

IMPORTANT:  Please do leave an email in your comment below or you can message me on IF, I will be sending invites to this blog because after this update I will be making it the story private and Invites Only. I will only be providing access to readers I know I can trust. It’s disheartening, but a must. Thanks.

A little late but Merry Christmas and in advance a very Happy New Year!!! 🙂

Take care 🙂

Chapter 4 : Parallels

Winter . 13. 03. 2012

“Why do you even bother coming here?” Arnav inquired with unconcealed distaste.

“Because dear brother the pleasure I derive from your misery is incomparable.”

Sameer had been fourteen when his father had brought home his step-brother and, also twelve when he learned what promiscuity actually meant. Neither helped him much watching his parents constantly bicker every hour of the day. In his young mind he chose to blame the child who ironically had no other fault other than being stuck between parents who weren’t suited for each other just like him. For that reason it was easier to dislike Arnav because his vulnerability reminded him of his own.

“Get out of here.” Arnav said in a low voice.

He snapped angrily. “Tell your girlfriend not to interfere with my work.”

Arnav held back his anger, curling his fingers into a fist. “Stay away from Aditi!”

“She came to me.” Holding up his hands in defense, he nearly snarled.

Taken back by the accusation, Arnav shot him a look. “Like I would believe anything that comes out of your mouth.”

Sameer didn’t quite snort. “Ask her yourself.” Because he had Arnav’s interest, he continued. “A scorned woman is bound to seek vengeance. What you did to her I wouldn’t even wish upon my enemies.”

“Don’t beat around the bush Sameer.”

“She came to me and asked if I wanted the final prints for the fashion show.”

No one had access to the prints apart from himself to maintain secrecy and build up the hype towards the launch. What was he thinking? He could not doubt Aditi despite their differences she had proven herself to be a loyal employee over the years.

“Honestly, I don’t get what she sees in you…you’ve basically made her into a wh—.”

Arnav’s white knuckles connected with Sameer’s jaw before he could complete the thought. “Don’t ever call her that!”

“What else am I suppose to call a woman who sleeps with a married man?” Sameer wiped the blood off his lip with a smile, pouring himself a drink afterwards. “I am sure I don’t have to explain it to you after all your mother had a revolving door her entire life.”

“Leave!” Arnav’s voice turned icy.

Sameer regarded him as if he were in the middle of watching a mildly inferior play. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you” He set down the glass with the liquid sloshing against the rim. “Till next time little brother.”

While he was aware Arnav would not distrust Aditi, he was happy to have a planted a seed that would transcend itself into  beautiful arrogance.

——-

“One Vanilla latte, please.”

“We’re closed.”

Khushi rung up the cashier, inclining her neck to greet the customer. “What are you doing here?” Her brows drew together in confusion at seeing Nick.

“It’s Friday night. Obviously we’re going to have some fun!” He tapped against the glass case, a cursory glance at the deserts to satisfy his sweet tooth from afar.

“I have a mid-term on Wednesday. All I’m going to do is study.” Khushi whipped together the hot drink adding cream on top. “Your latte!”

Nick offered to pay, but Khushi refused. She said it was on the house, which meant she paid from her own pocket. Her own hard-earned money not the one Arnav placed into her account. The job was helping her reclaim some of the control she had felt slipping through her fingers the past few months. At last, one part of her life was playing out to her own wishes without anyone’s overbearing commands. Plus getting a job on campus made it much more convenient for her class schedule.

Clearing the mess, she pulled down the shutters and turned the lock into place before joining Nick on the table in the empty hall.

“Please tell me you are joking.”, leaning back against the chair, she closed her tired eyes.

“It’s Friday night, I am not letting you spend it with your head stuck inside your textbooks.”

Pulling on her sleeve, Khushi mulled over his words decidedly agreeing textbooks sounded much more welcoming. “I think I want to go home.”

“You owe me for my birthday, pay up!” He said flatly.

Nick was using his birthday trump card, the one wish she had granted him for his twenty-fourth. He had wisely chosen to save it later, and it seemed today was the time to back up her words with her actions.

“Fine”, she wrinkled her nose. “But I will not dance there!”

“We’ll see about that later.”

Khushi stood up.“I need to go home first to change.”

It took them twenty minutes to return to her building trudging through the snow, otherwise ever since she switched buildings she was no more than five minutes away from campus.

Once home Khushi changed from her all black attire to a burgundy-colored knee-length dress. Light make up was enough to hide the dark circles, and she stored away her glasses in exchange for lenses.

Nick groaned out loud when he saw the flats. “No!”

She dismally watched him hunt the front cupboard and present a pair of black stilettos. His pleading expression forced her to relented, she wore them all the while gritting her teeth.

“For my birthday I’m going to make you eat hot coal!” She promised.

Ignoring the remark, he pulled her close. “Now you look like Nicholas Gheller’s wing man.”

Khushi rolled her eyes behind him following him out the door.

The weather turned for the worse once they were on the road, but somehow they managed to make it to the club alive and without any bruises.

The strobe lights flickered across the span of the large room tangling with flashing neon’s in the darkness. Nick reached out for Khushi’s hand helping her through the pulsating rows of people fearing she may find herself lost in the crowd .

“You can let go of my hand now.” She reminded when Nick sat down on a bar stool.

He instantly let go.

This atmosphere was  novice for her. Having lived a very recluse life that spanned from her sister to her uncle, certain restrictions were always unsaid for her. Mostly her focus had been school, and family that is until she was doused with cold water with the sudden marriage.

The bass mixed with the intermingled smells of smoke and liquor provided a backdrop for the clinking of glasses and reunion of lovers and friends.

She felt revved wanting to intermingle with the crowd herself temporarily forget the bitterness.

“Two shots.” Nick mouthed to the bartender against the harsh noise.

Khushi saw the craze. Intensity, desperation, and even romance. It was a mix of every emotion a human could feel in his entire lifespan brought into motion using multiple outlets.

“Drink up, Khushi.”

She did not bother to argue and matched his elation of being out on a Friday night forgetting her archaic morals for the night.

The liquid burned with a bitter aftertaste sliding smoothly down her throat. Only one drink turned into four by the time she returned to watching the dance floor.

“Do you know this is the first time… ”, losing her trail of thought, she tipped her head to the side, and looked closely at him. “I’m tired, Nick.”

“Already? The night has barely begun.”

Turning her head left and right, she ordered another drink.  “I can’t seem to escape the interminable state of uncertainty I’ve put myself into.”

“Such as?” Nick asked.

“You know what I think—when we let certain people into our lives we tell them here is my heart…trample it or even drive a stake through, but we’re still going to let you in. Family is kind of like that they can tear us apart yet we mourn for the loss. Hope for a return even in our cadaverous state. ”

“You’re missing your sister?”

Khushi solemnly nodded. Throwing her head back she emptied the contents of the glass in one go.

“Enough about my sloppy life. Dance?”

Less tipsy than her, Nick held her back. “Let’s have fun. Shall we?”

Till now he had seen a Khushi who had placed a barricade between her self and the world, today he found there was more to the quaint girl. That she’d been trivialized by the absurdity of bonds tied by blood. By the realization that some relations would never sever, for they would always remain hung between a sorrow and a sense of self.

To ease her emotional overflow, he decided to divert her mind.

Close to falling off the stool, Khushi salvaged her balance with his help. “What did you have in mind?”

“The next person to walk through the door…you have to ask him to dance.” Smiling wryly, he waited for her to agree.

“Why only me?”

“Someone has to watch over you.”

“I am not a child.” She insisted pulling her hand free.

Nick suppressed his laughter fearing she may feel he was goading her. “Whatever you say sweetheart.”

“Don’t you sweetheart me!” She pointedly looked at the entrance eagerly. Through the haze of smoke, she saw a tall man walk inside, his hand in the air waving to someone. She followed his wave, sighing with relief when she spotted it was another man not a girlfriend. Although she wouldn’t have minded, the twist would have presented an interesting challenge.

“Go on Gupta, he is all yours.”

Uncertain, but brave, she nodded.

As she made her way through the crowd, two things occurred to her, she could either get laughed on her face or this could end up being the most invigorating moment in her life. She preferred the latter, but going on her drunken state she did not mind the first either. It was all for fun, coming here tonight, dressing up, momentarily pausing her life. Tonight instead of focusing on the burden weighing her down she would concentrate on living her life as she pleased.

What was the life she wanted? Was it to be apart from her sister? To live in another country cut off from her family. Or was it to remember her marriage. She definitely wanted to forget the married part instead focus on filling the gaping holes she could fall through anytime. Four years wasn’t that long of a time. They were already through end of  winter. Soon she would be in second year still tittering between concealing her pain and letting it all go to hell.

Squinting her eyes against the blurriness, she cleared her throat.

The man turned around, the first feature she noticed was his eyes. They were charcoal black and dangerous. Half of the effect of alcohol evaporated right that instant. He was easily the type of man to turn heads, and never notice tiny creatures like her. By creatures she meant small, and still yet to blossom woman who were struggling between hormonal changes that fluctuated between extremely bad days and rare normal days. Normal days were when she could leave her apartment without feeling everybody on the walkway was scrutinizing her.

He seemed amused by her gawking stare.

“Khushi…”, uncomfortable, she stammered.

“Abeer.”

Breathing in harshly, she exhaled quicker than she wanted.“My friend is at the bar watching us, he dared me to dance with the next person who walked into the club.” Playing around with the stud in her ear, she winced unconsciously. “You….happen to be that person. Weird—to have a stranger walk up to you to ask you for a dance actually not that weird since we are at a club” Blinking away the discomfort, she put on her best smile. “Abeer, would you dance with me because otherwise I will end up looking like a fool. Which—I don’t mind at all. In fact, I was cast as a tree in our school play which was absurd because I auditioned for the main role—I’m rambling..the thing is if you laugh right now I’ll laugh with you because I’m that drunk.”

“Sure.”

Khushi gasped.

“I’ve got time to spare before my wife comes.”

Unable to discern his sarcastic tone, she froze.

Abeer shrugged. “Relax, I was only joking.”

This was how Khushi who promised not to end up the dance floor dragged a complete stranger out to dance. Perhaps provocative of her but she ended up loving every second of it. One dance turned into a few more, leading to a stolen kiss she could have sworn ended up being in the heat of the moment.

To live in the moment without a consideration for the consequences was unbecoming for her except she was under influence. A pathetic excuse, she would later summarize vowing to stay away from alcohol for the rest of her life.

————-

It was nine in the morning when Arnav arrived at his desk to be greeted by the sight of Parichay Times sitting atop his files. He was about to pick up his phone  when his secretary strode right in as if on cue.

Not bothering to survey the newspaper himself, he glanced at Meera.

Meera cautioned herself against Arnav’s cold smile. “You know reading newspaper is not unprecedented in today’s world.”

“Get to the point, please.”

“Your wife has been featured on the third page.”

He nearly laughed, her glared stopped him.

“She has been featured in the arms of an unknown man.” She went on to explain aware Arnav wouldn’t bother to read the article. “They termed her as a reckless woman living out a notorious affair with a Englishman.”

“Englishman?” He repeated.

Intrigue had him flipping through the pages to catch sight of the photograph. She looked different unlike the timid, young woman who dared to oppose him. This one was remarkably stunning, her allure was her control he decided. “I am sure you have handled this already?”

Meera nodded.

“Then why are you unnecessarily wasting my time?” His tone became detached as he threw away the newspaper.

“I’ve been told your brother has someone tailing her. When I called the editor he informed the pictures were sent to him.”

His fingers tightened around the tip of the pen. “Are you sure?”

When she did not bother to confirm her suspicion, his sinking feeling turned into outrage.

Meera let herself out.

———-

Alcohol was poison for the body, for the soul, for the mind, in general for everything according to Khushi. She had come to this conclusion after the debacle of two nights ago, most of which she remembered like a story rehearsed even though she preferred to erase it from her memory like a bad cold you never wanted to relive.

Unfortunately for her, she was being forced to relive it. The stranger from two nights ago turned out to be her second-term ethics professor.

Bella snickered, her friend who she met in her Global heath class. “He is pretty hot.”

Khushi took a deep breath. “Do you think he still remembers me?”

“The fact that he keeps on staring at you is a well enough indicator of his sharp memory.”

“You could have lied.”

“I think half of the class noticed, Khushi.” Bella whispered. “Don’t pretend you are immune to his charm.”

She vividly remembered the kiss. Charming fell short in comparison.

Bella noticed the crimson cheeks and smiled. “You are thinking about him!”

Khushi did not have time to retort because class was dismissed. She gathered her things quickly turning to the door hoping to avoid crossing paths with her new professor.

“Ms. Gupta?”

Stopping at the top of the stairs, she spun around. When she met his eyes, her cheeks immediately stained red with embarrassment.

“Yes.”

“I’d like to see you in my office by…”,he checked his wrist watch. “Is 6 good?”

A gentle bob of the head was all she managed before rushing outside.

———

“How long will it take for the shipment to arrive?” Arnav surveyed the designs, while Aditi loomed over his side watching him closely. “I’d like to get the stitching started by the end of the month.”

“I doubt we’ll be able to start that quickly.” Aditi argued.

“This isn’t a matter of argument, Aditi. Next month is crucial for us.”

“I’m aware, Arnav. I believe we work on the same team.” Folding her arms across her chest, she sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”

Aditi Gupta was the supervisor of their design team. She overlooked all the designs and selected the fabrics before they being presented to Arnav for a final decision. At most he always went with her pick because he appreciated her eyes for details. Lately, they had been at a discord over everything including the fabrics which Aditi had approved more than two weeks ago without his permission.

“Thank you.” He ignored the terseness in her voice. “Also stay away from Sameer.”

Aditi opened her mouth but closed it soon after.“What I do in my life is no longer any of your business.” Her voice sounded stiff and unlike her.

“Aditi—”, he nearly yelled at her looking mildly crazed. Aware of the curious glances he pulled her into the office kitchen. “Stay away from Sameer. Don’t make me say it again, please.” He said in a clipped tone.

She stared at him.“You’re going to London today?”

“Yes.”

She felt bereft at his honest response. It became evident to her she was beginning to sound like a broken record and he no longer wanted to wind her back to replay her mistakes.

“I hope you enjoy your stay.” She remarked indifferently.

Arnav wanted to quell her worries but decided against it.  He left her standing there as he returned to his cabin, surprised to find an anxious Meera presiding in his seat. He closed the door behind him waiting for her to notice him.

“Meera?”

“We have a problem.”

“Which is…”

“It turns out…”, pushing back the chair, she stood up in her emerald-green dress. “How about you take a seat first.”

“Stop stalling.”

“We can’t find Khushi.”

This time he did laugh. He walked past her to the large windows occupying the room.

“She moved out of the apartment more than a month ago. The letters she’s been sending were mailed from Delhi itself. ”

His pulse leaped at the realization he never bothered to check the postage stamps far more concerned with what was inside the envelope. Had Khushi really gone rogue? “Just check her last transaction.”

“I checked the letters…they have all been posted from India. She probably got a friend to mail them to you. The bank account has been barely touched apart from the payments to university. She left the apartment. I was doing a routine check up on the account when I noticed she had not made any withdrawals for the past two months. Then I called the landlord who informed me she moved out the in the middle of January. Also…”

“Yes, Meera?”

“Her phone is no longer in use.”

Arnav could not believe her audacity, he demanded one simple task from her instead she presented him with a derailment of an entire train. He had demanded she write letters for they required effort and he could also make sure she stayed at his decided residence. Now he was unsure of everything. She was smart he would give her that yet also incredibly haughty and immature in her attempts to rebel.

“If Sameer can find her we shouldn’t have much trouble.” He glared, muttering uncomplimentary phrases under his breath.

————

Khushi silently chastened herself knocking on the wooden door. She entered inside focusing on the walls instead of him to calm her nerves. The office was neat and tidy with white-washed walls as she had expected. The striking black and white photographs framed on the wall caught her attention. Each held a memory linked to each other in a symmetrical form. The picture with the child drinking water from his mother’s hand tugged at her heart more than the others. Perhaps because that bond was most familiar to her. It reminded her of the Aditi she used to know.

He followed her gaze. “That one I took in Algeria when I went there as a part of doctors across the border.”

The suddenness of his voice caused her to jump.

“You can look at me Khushi.”

She looked at him. He seemed less volatile in the light, or it could be her eyes playing a trick on her. Still as handsome without alcohol to spike her senses. The appeal of him increasing tenfold now that he was forbidden.

“Should I apologize?”

Khushi shook her head. “I came to you. Remember?”

“Clearly.” He pulled out the chair for her. “What happened that night…”

“Will never happen again.” Khushi completed. “We won’t even speak of it. Now that I think about it I don’t even remember it much.”

Leaning against the desk, he watched her drive herself into a frenzy. “Let me help you remember—Abeer.” He forwarded his hand.

Khushi swallowed against her parched throat.“Professor Mitchell.”

“Abeer.”

“Abeer.” She relented.

“Good.” Straightening, he hovered over the desk. “Every time the term changes professors hire a new lab assistants. Would you be interested in the opportunity?”

Puzzled by his query, Khushi mumbled. “Sorry?”

“Lab assistant. Khushi?” He repeated patiently. “You also get paid.”

She cut him off, “I get paid?”

Abeer nodded, handing her a file. “The days and timings have been listed in there along with the salary.”

He hid his grin towards what he saw to be real enthusiasm in her eyes. “You have until next class to get back to me. There is a lot of work that comes with the position so think it through before you accept.”

“Is that all?”, her voice rose several octaves higher eager to leave.

“No.”

What she dreaded was about to be addressed. She wanted to dig a hole right here and climb into it; hibernate like the hedgehog.

“You are right what happened  between us was probably wrong considering our current equation—”, he smiled against her embarrassment. “that does not mean it cannot happen again.”

The bag slipped from her fingers, littering every possible item on the floor. As if she wasn’t mortified enough, she now had feminine hygiene products lying on the his office floor. Grumbling, she scrambled to push everything back into her bag.

Abeer joined her pursuit to gather her things. “I worried you.”

“Somewhat.” She replied meekly, stuffing notes back into their place.

“I tried you find you afterwards but you had left by then.”

Khushi sat still on her knees, staring.

“Contrasting qualities you have…to appear so innocent yet start an inferno with a simple kiss.”

She was unaware what the appropriate response should be because this whole conversation seemed highly unlikely for her.

Standing up, she held the bag in her arm for the strap could not offer any support. “I…I should get going.”

“I’ll help you to your car.” He seized the bag from her hold allowing her to carry the textbooks.

Since he already started walking, Khushi did waste her breath arguing, quietly followed him out the door. They walked beside each other to the parking lot, she hoped Nick did not leave for home already. When they reached outside Nick’s car was nowhere in sight.

As it happened bad luck struck on the days when you desperately luck to be on your side.

She extended her hands to retrieve the bag. “I live a few blocks away from here.”

“How will you carry the bag and the textbooks alone?”

“I can manage.”

Once again she was following him, and this time they stopped next to white Audi. She reluctantly took a seat after he opened the door for her.

When they pulled up to the curb of her building, thin droplets of rain began to pelt the windshield.

Abeer was already at her side with an umbrella when she stepped out of the car. She stood underneath it disconcerted. The proximity frayed her nerves especially when the cold breeze touch her wet skin.

“Thank you.” Khushi rumpled her wet hair pushing the loose strands behind her ear. “I am sorry for the trouble.”

Abeer blinked when a droplet hit his long eyelashes. “I did not mind at all.”

She arched her neck towards the building hoping she could make a reverent exit before she further caused herself embarrassment.

“I would kiss you but I can see your deciding whether you want to close the car door on my fingers, or invite me inside for a cup of coffee.” To ease her, he simply stroked his fingers against her cold cheeks. “Think about what I said tonight.”

Which part she almost asked was she to review; the lab assistant position or his overt gestures.

“I should go now.” Khushi turned away heading for the front door. The first thing she would do once in her warm apartment was do some deep thinking about how she managed to get herself into an uncharacteristically intimate situation as to be dropped home by her professor.

Unaware to her, as the rain grew harsher, a changeable force was waiting for her at home. A force likely to disrupt her newly found sense of confidence.

He watched her from the third floor, his hands stuffed inside his pocket.

Like a wolf hunting its next prey.

——

Apologies for the wait was a little busy with life.

Back with an update. Thank you so much for your sharing your thoughts on the earlier chapters. It’s always a pleasure to read your comments. As well I need to say your patience is endearing for this story just hold on.

Next update will up very soon.

Would love to know your thoughts as always.

Thank you 🙂 

Take care

Chapter 3 : The times of dissonance

When Aditi was young, her father had sat her down underneath the navy-blue sky with stars glittering all over, to reveal two secrets of life she would never learn from another. The first—family despite their shortcomings were the only people she could find a way back to if lost, and the other ambition keeps the heart young but blind as well. His words still echoed in her mind—a human’s susceptibility to blur the moral lines when crossed with power and desire always serves as a reminder of just how incorrigible mankind can become.

Her parents untimely death had taught her even life could deceive. Good or bad, fair or unfair, life was a game where even the meanest of bluffs lost to the irony. And so far, she was doing an exceptional job of beating life at its own game when it quite astonishingly occurred to her she did not even trust herself.

His gaze impatiently raked her over. “I believe I was clear!”

Pouring herself a drink, Aditi helped herself to the chair in the alcove.“Well, you weren’t. Let’s hear it out…”, she regarded Arnav with complete sincerity. “For my sake tell me in clear terms where we stand?”

Arnav raised an eyebrow at her audacity.

“I had no other option because there was no one else I could entrust Khushi to apart from you. Someone who wouldn’t use her for other means. But let’s not forget you got something out of it as well. Just to spite your father you accepted my plea, and I’m sure your vengeance for a dying man gives you a good sleep at night? ”

“I sleep just fine.” He strode towards her, bending down to close the distance between them.

“Your deplorable morals are heart-warming, Arnav.”

“At least, I speak the truth. The bubble wrap you want to surround your sister with will do nothing but suffocate her.”

When she glanced at him she saw the resignation on his face.“I presume you know how that feels?”

“Don’t you get it!” He muttered, whirling away from her disgusted mostly with himself. “There is a twenty year old sitting in London thinking I married her for money. Actually let me reword—she claims I bought her. Then there is you…I could strangle you right now! ” Seizing her by the arm, he lifted her off the chair. “I confided in you. Trusted you! What did you do? You used everything I told you as leverage! ”

Her cheeks burned, hot and red. Also he saw a hint of belligerence in her eyes, but she just as soon calmed as if occurred to her anger would not solve anything.

“It’s only for four years.” Aditi stressed. “Once she graduates you are free!”

The ease with which she moved around his feelings was an act he’d yet to perfect. He hoped it was just the outer layer, inside she was being whipped into a storm she had not seen coming.

“Free to come back to you?”

Aditi shrugged. Time had taught the only way out was to detach, appear as if the burden be falling upon her shoulders was as weightless as a feather. At first it had been difficult, gradually she mastered the pretending to not care bit, in fact she was often so faultless at hiding her emotions the act of it had made her impervious to her own feelings and others around her.

Arnav’s expression grew thoughtful as he watched her fight with her own afflictions. “Okay, Aditi. Like you said only four years—you and I will only cross paths professionally now. For four years we are going to completely forget you stood in this room not so long ago in my arms. I am going to focus on my marriage even if it was a sham of a marriage!” Stopping, he tossed out the rest with a carelessness,  “you do whatever it is you want with your life and…in four years let’s regroup?”

She stared out of the window into the cold night. The darkness was notably soothing, she could even imagine the sound of the breeze ruffling against the leaves, and the howling of stray dogs nearby. If she were to venture out she would find exactly what she saw in her mind, which made the night much safer than looking into the eyes of a scorned man.

Standing up, she faced him refusing to leave this night a complete loss. “If that is what you want it would be rude to refuse.” Retrieving her clutch, she headed straight for the door, stopping to look back at Arnav. “Regardless of what is between us, I trust you to see my sister never gets hurt.”

Arnav emptied the glass with a tightness around his lips.

Few seconds later, she was gone.

Four years was a long time. Perhaps she could find a way back to him, but she knew some doors closed and never opened again. Over time his indifference would eventually give way to malevolence.

Life had always been a serious business for her. Never one known for her recklessness, she was appreciated for being reliable. Her parents demise had taught her guards should never be down. When their uncle had come to pick her and Khushi up claiming responsibility for them, her expectations were of warmth and affection, instead in a waspish display of events she soon realized family and trust were quite similar. Once broken, the shards do not only cause pain, they prick themselves deeply into the flesh making a home there. Unfortunately for her, at the tender age of fifteen she had no power, and with a ten year-old sister by her side she was also in no position to wage a war. As years went on, it was easier to become the shield Khushi needed than to explain to her their loving uncle was a vindictive man with no morals. What made it worse was he was granted their custody because her foolish father decided the cornerstone of life was family.

The blind faith in her father’s words had in a way condemned her to her current state. Alone, reckless, and mostly ignorant.

————

The Raizada brother’s are all set to present their new line at International Fashion Week based in New York. It will be interesting to see who gathers the most votes for it could potentially win one of them the seat of the year. This year AR Design is setting itself to launch globally, it could prove a pivotal task without the supervision of their father, Lalit Singh Raizada.

Switching off the television, Khushi swore loudly thrusting the remote towards the wall. It clashed against the hard surface and fell to the floor unharmed. The chipping of canary-colored paint was the only reaction she could derive from her failed attempt at venting her anger.

How was it she never saw it coming? The marriage. Her sisters betrayal? All of it hit her like a bucket of ice cold water jolting her awake. All at once she was engulfed in a catastrophe now known as her life. She had sat beside him like happiest bride in the world while he jerked her back to the harsh reality every time their gazes met. She married the devil’s incarnation was all she could think of every time she thought back to the rueful day.

Shaking her head,  she pushed down her spectacles to focus on coagulation written boldly in her textbook, also known as blood clots in the human body.

It became a task to get through one page of reading after witnessing the Raizada’s debacle on her laptop screen. Disturbing was the first word coming to mind when she thought of them. In fact none of them had been present at the wedding apart from the elder brother. While her uncle had described them as a close-knit family, it was becoming apparent there were discrepancies in his account of the Raizada family.

Her phone vibrated.

She nearly wobbled off the chair in surprise.

“Hello”, cradling the phone between her shoulder and chin, she found herself preoccupied with the image of a flustered Arnav from the interview. “If you did not wish to speak, why bother calling?” The line on the other end went dead, and she hung up.

Dropping the pen, she leaned back against the chair giving into her flailing need to do anything but study.

Aditi. She knew it was Aditi. Her sister. It was easier to come to this revelation because apart from a few university friends, Arnav only had access to this number. It also revealed he was in touch with her sister.

————

“Aditi?”

“Sorry—”, shifting her chair towards the desk, Aditi closed her phone. “Where were we?”

“The designs for the spring collection.” Myrah tapped the sheet of papers spread out on the desk. “You okay?”

She was two cups of coffee away from having a breakdown, “I’m fine”. She had to be fine, there was no other option. “The designs. I’ll keep them and add some points.”

Myrah was always looking for an opportunity to learn. “Such as?”

“Scrap the leather. Go for the contemporary prints on cotton.” Picking up a design, Aditi placed it atop others. “Something like this is very heavy for summer. The idea is to keep it breezy and fun.”

Myrah left her office an hour later with prints in her hand. Since she was the head of the design team, she wanted all the advice she could get before submitting the designs for final approval.

Meera popped into the office hiding behind the glass door just as Aditi was in the middle of dialing a number. “Boss wants to see you.”

Aditi’s glossy eyes shone.

“Sameer. I meant Sameer.” Meera silently apologized walking inside. She perched herself on the ledge of the desk. “There’s a rumor going around Akshay danced to a certain item song for his current girlfriend.”

Akshay was a designer at AR Designs.

Aditi lips twitched with amusement. “Song?”

Meera gathered close and whispered into her ear.

Aditi’s laughter was music to Meera’s ear. “Keep smiling like that.” Satisfied, she straightened fixing her knit pencil skirt. “Don’t ever put yourself down for others because they’ll walk right on you.”

“It’s not a rumor, is it?”

Meera marked her exit with a wink. “The fun is in the mystery, sweetheart.”

A while later, Aditi pulled open the door to Sameer’s cabin entering without waiting for him to beckon her inside. He was busy with a client on the phone, his back facing her as he rambled on about some lucrative project which could be an ideal for both companies. While she did not like him for his deceptive nature, she appreciated his sharp mind on the business front of things.

Sameer spun around aware of another presence.

She met his gaze head on refusing to waver.

Sameer studied her across the room, noting that sneer of a smile she was forcefully bestowing on him. A beautiful woman, he thought, so steady and sensible, and so obviously head over heels for his brother. Even now standing at the far end of the room, she exuded a rare tenacity which would have enamored him if it weren’t for the desolate eyes which betrayed her.

“Aditi, come inside.” Chucking the phone aside, he took a seat. “Don’t be afraid…I don’t bite.” As an afterthought he added, “not yet at least. ”

She took a seat in front of him. While walking to his cabin she promised herself to hear him out fairly, now all she wanted to do was turn her back and leave.

“As you know my brother and I are both vying for the role our father carries.” He tried to sound reasonable. “It’s unfortunate but someone has to carry forth the legacy after his demise.”

“Which should be you?” She said.

“If Arnav could handle it…I would have given it up to him. Unfortunately his business sense is a little weak.”

“You would be the right fit to carry on this company?”

“If the shoe fits? My intentions aren’t bad…”

The corners of her lips turned up, amused. “Let’s hear it.”

“You know, you and I are quite similar. We both keep taking the hits because the moment we stop…the world around us would crash. There is this dependency expected of us and the only way to continue is to keep the reigns in our control.”

“If you hold too tightly you risk getting hurt, and if you let go easily you risk the fight.”

Sameer leaned back considering her impromptu words. There was not much she could do for him attached to Arnav, but without him she could be a landmine ready to erupt. As it appeared, Aditi did harbor a weakness, Arnav—if replaced by him she would have a seemingly empty life. He could provide her a purpose which could be resourceful for both  of them.

“The finalized prints for the fashion week”, Aditi’s musing voice brought him back to the conversation. “You want to sideline Arnav by becoming the savior you were never meant to be.”

“How you get me, Aditi.” He folded his hand, watching her as she debated her next words.

Offended, she straightened. “Go to hell!”

Sameer had expected the reaction. “Gladly, only if you follow me there.” He winked at her when she strode away in anger. “Call me if your mind changes.”

————

Winter – 15. 01. 2012

In Nick’s opinion winter in London was like a young woman suffering from a heartbreak. Underneath the street light during the night, she appeared sadder, more alone and striking as ever in the lambent light. During the day, she hustled and bustled like the rest to work hard when cold was callous enough to stifle a breath.

“Don’t you think Venus is enjoying herself a little too much?” Nick stared at the large replica of Botticelli’s, Venus and Mars hanging in the Art Commons. “I should like to think they just finished a ravished rendezvous.”

Khushi never had any interest in art least of all renaissance era paintings, that is until Nick had introduced her to his collection. “Venus has every right to be proud of herself.”

“Because she is beautiful?”

Shaking her head, Khushi stepped closer. “No, because she exhibits a rare command of power over the man.”

Surprised by the comment, Nick tried to imitate what she saw . “Why rare?”

“Because when do you ever get to see a woman like Venus in front of a man who looks completely torn and disheveled in the renaissance age. Usually it is the opposite.”

“On the contrary I don’t think he is torn.” Nick was quick to oppose her. “I think he is her equal. Just a little tipsy with passion.” Grinning slyly, he wound his arm around Khushi’s neck. “You know how it feels to be tipsy no? There are some who say Venus was a married woman and this man her lover. Botticelli was very smart in the way he wove this painting, everything could be left up to interpretation of the viewer. What do you think?”

“I think she is just a woman looking for an escape. She is an extremely beautiful woman and intelligent also. She does not deserve a loveless marriage.”

Nick heard the distant melancholy in her voice.

Clearing his voice, he leaned against her. “Just so I am getting this straight…you support extra-marital affair?”

“I think we must not judge…we don’t know her circumstances.”

A habit of Nick’s was he always read between the lines. Call it a attuned sense of empathy, or being just plain noisy, he sensed the smoke long before the grey puffs arose into the clear sky. Like now, he felt they had stopped discussing the painting a while ago moving to a far more personal subject.

He decided to not share his observation with Khushi for she’d gone still as if she were trying to recover herself. “Weren’t we heading to the cafeteria?”

She suddenly looked up. “Hmm…let’s go.”

———-

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. 

As it happens a few of my OS’s were posted on myeduniya without my permission, I would have not known about it if someone had not pointed it out to me. I have tried to message the moderators but their lack of response has underwhelmed me so to say. Just an honest plea, please do not plagiarize or post stories without the approval of the author. It is not only demoralizing for the authors, but frustrating for the readers as well. Do not reduce any writer’s hard work to a copy and paste!

So far I have not removed any of my work off IF apart from Choices and WOWY. I think now I will remove the other stories as well. As for before you came, I have not made a firm decision whether make the blog private or not, by next update I will let you know what I have decided.

As always would love to know your thoughts. Take care 🙂

 

Chapter 2 : Friends like foes

Fall – 24. 10. 2011

The foliage was crisp like a bite out of an apple. The air snug as a knitted scarf, and the sky clear as water out of a tap.

Khushi counted her steps like she did every day. A total of two hundred and sixty-nine steps took her to campus every morning. Ten more took her to her favorite coffee shop, Ground Cafe. The next fifty more allowed her to arrive just in time for her biology class.

Today she was an hour early because professor Meredith was not fond of noisy distractions, and she needed to find someone to share their notes with her after she missed last couple classes.

There were a total of five people present in the large hall. One was busy with her laptop. The other with his phone. Third was treating herself to a Starbucks breakfast sandwich. Fourth catching up on sleep. The last one buried in his notes.

Definitely, the last one.

Hurrying up the steps, in her leather brown boots, Khushi cleared her throat. The young man did not notice her at first. When she made the sound again, he was perceptive enough to understand she wanted his attention.

“Hello, I’m Khushi.” She said, brightly.

“Nicholas.”He responded. “Can I help you with something?”

He was a scrawny looking guy despite his tall built. His narrow face was hidden behind his glasses, and freckles dusted his long nose.

“I missed the last two classes. I was wondering if I could borrow your notes.. I usually don’t miss classes but this one time could not be helped. I know you are thinking you don’t even know me. What if don’t return your notes back to you? I’m not a note-thief. Actually I am not any kind of thief. The point is I would like your notes because…”

His sudden laughter brought her ramblings to a sudden end.

“You have a charming personality.”

“Some would disagree.” Tongue in her cheek, Khushi grinned. “ Many would also say I am quite rambunctious.”

“Vibrant.” He amended as he began to pull out papers from his file. “Here are the notes. Why don’t you note down my number. When  done just text me. I’ll pick them up.”

They swapped numbers and in that hour became good friends.

Nicholas, or Nick was Khushi’s first friend on campus. It made classes easier to handle with him by her side. They studied together, had lunch together, and even pulled all nighters at the library together before heading into the exam hall.

It was hard to adjust to a routine after moving to London, but she made herself believe there could be more to life than being the subservient bride of Arnav Singh Raizada. Two months away from him helpled her to realized she was anything but docile, she too had claws and if invited to reveal them she would. She was going to live her life to her own terms, and forget those who hurt her in the way.

——-

Mr. Raizada,

I hope your dungeon is keeping you well? Please by all means don’t forget to feed your pride today. After all apart from that arrogance, we both know you have nothing going for you.

You must be thinking how I am doing? I am well. The freshness of London is good to me. I have made friends here. Also I have learnt to forget you.

Sincerely,

Khushi

Arnav folded the letter into its creases, placed it into the last drawer of his desk. He paused momentarily looking at the four other letters he had received from her earlier in the month. They were the same, repetitive lines meant to irritate him.

Stubborn woman!

If she thought she was a better chess master than him she would have to re-think her strategy. He was not annoyed by her letters in fact it pleased him to know she was upholding her end of the negotiation. She preceded his expectations because as far as he concluded she would not write to him at all. It came as a surprise when the first letter arrived. The second one made him laugh. Eventually he began to understand his new bride was a crafty woman.

“The reporters are here.” Meera strode inside, her planner in hand. She stopped before his desk setting down files he had requested earlier. “They seem…voracious.”

Pushing back his chair, Arnav walked up to her. “Words of encouragement?”

Straightening his tie out of pure habit, Meera looked up. She held his eyes waiting for a flicker, but there was nothing. Smiling, she patted him on the arm. “Court them and just when they are ready to get into bed with you…let them know the terms will be yours.”

“That’s some analogy.” Amused, he moved away from her.

“Well, business is like good sex. It should always leave you satisfied.”

Opening the door to his cabin, he walked out without another glance in Meera’s direction.

The boardroom was switched up to suit the meets of a small press conference. Reporters went silent when he entered room like wolves ready to devour the sheep. Except he was a wolf himself, born and bred by a wolf. It was in his nature to attack than to retreat with danger in hindsight.

The queries’ started off with a zeal that sparked a laughter from him, earning himself presumptuous glares of understanding.

Fixing the microphone, he addressed the crowd.“I’m here aren’t I? Give your straining voices some rest, all your questions will receive an answer. I have to wait for someone to join me before I start reciting the cue cards Meera handed to me…who is my secretary by the way.”

They did not have to wait longer as the last missing piece to the story arrived shortly afterwards.

“Ah…here comes my beloved brother, Sammy. Sameer Singh Raizada.” His voice glossed with ubiquitous joy. “Hurry up, Sam, they’re all eager to know about our father’s dying wish.”

Sameer glared at him. “Oh, Arnav, always the joker.” Taking a seat, he flashed his ever-so-brilliant smile. “I must say my apologies for making you all wait. I was briefly caught in an urgent matter.”

“Did mom’s surgery go well?” Arnav inquired, earnestly, about their mother’s botox surgery.

Sameer recognized the bait, and raised him an ace. “She is doing well. Father was with her at the doctors.”

“But, I—”

“Let’s speak to the reporters. They seem confused among friendly family banter.” Sameer politely lowered his microphone, inching to the side.

“Don’t embarrass yourself, Arnav.”

“Dear brother, I thought I was already an embarrassment.”

Fixing his tie to hide the nerves, Sameer faced the crowd. “ We have called this conference today so we both can discuss the upcoming future of AR Designs (Akriti Raizada Designs). As you already know our father Lalit Singh Raizada has been diagnosed with ALS. Also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. A disease where the nerve cells that control your muscles die over time. Tough times are coming up ahead for our entire family, and I would appreciate it if you could give us your support through it.”

“Who will be taking over the company after your father’s demise?” A reporter questioned.

“During this time, I can only say we are thinking about the well-being of our father and continuously praying for his good health.” Sameer responded coolly.

“When was the diagnosis?”

“Late June.” Arnav took his chance to speak. “We wanted to use all our resources to find a treatment before we had to disclose it to the board of directors and the shareholders.”

“The stocks have fallen. Does that worry you?”

“As long as our product continues to maintain its innovative quality, I believe we have nothing to worry about.”

“Between the two of you, who will acquire control?”

“I—”,Sameer heard the chatter escalate further against his silent pause. “I mean to say the well-being of the company rides on both of our shoulders. Regardless of who sits in our father’s chair, we both wish to continue the growth of our company.”

“What my brother said.” Arnav said, admiring Sameer’s slyness. “We will be keeping you updated with the progress but so far there is no permanent decision on the matter .”

“What about your marriage to Khushi Gupta?” A shrill-like voice tore through the noise.

The one topic Arnav was glad to stay away from came up in one of the worst of places. “Yes, what about her?”

“Why is she in London?”

Arnav knowingly glanced at Sameer, the smile tugging at the corner of his lips was a shrewd answer to any questions forming in his mind.

Arnav used his not-so-best-suit, patience. “I would request you to avoid personal questions.”

“Personal enough to see a rise in your shares as soon you became married.”

Biting down on the fury, Arnav shook his head. “If you are trying to insinuate something…I’d like you to get your facts straight first.”

“Are you not happy with the marriage?”

“Why did you send her off to London?”

“What is your relationship with her sister?”

Banging his hand against the wooden surface, Arnav shot up from his seat. The reaction he wanted to avoid was the one he ended up exhibiting despite his restraint. “Enough—I will not answer ridiculous questions that have no other aim than to hurt my loved ones. If you have any questions other than my marriage, I would be happy to respond. Otherwise—conference is over.”

Sameer, smiled, wholly entertained by his manipulations. Within seconds he sobered, and stood up as well. “On behalf of my younger brother I apologize. He is possessive of his relations as he should be since family always comes first. Let’s end this meeting here today.”

———-

It was kind of strange the comfort Sheesh Mahal offered him, despite losing his mother to her loneliness here. The darkness had always confounded her, while he found it welcoming. He chose to see the light hidden in the shadows, she became in cohorts with them. And over time, she found even the shadows betrayed her when they began to reflect the remainders of her pathetic life. The only escape she found was to stop living by committing suicide.

Suicide, Arnav learned at the age of seventeen, did not involve only one person. It was much more enormous. A war between two different terrors. The desire to live, and the fear of living. Both excruciating afflictions, and because he had seen his mother’s lifeless body before the paramedics carried it out two hours later, he’d wondered why had the blade not caused her to scream her lungs out as it sliced through her frail skin. Just how large was her grief? Often he found himself wondering if grief was contagious when the empty halls began to addle him.

He switched on the lights to his bedroom surprised to find an unwanted guest standing in the middle of it.

Unfazed, he went about placing his things as he did every night.

“What are you doing here?” He inquired, filling the snifter with bourbon.

“Arnav…”, she patiently waited for the aloofness to disappear from his eyes. “I don’t need a reason to see you.”

He was preoccupied—lonesome goldfish swimming in her fishbowl was more intriguing to him than the questions in her eyes.

She reacted instinctively taken back by his lack of interest. Arrogance caused her spine to straighten, enough to bring anyone or anything down to the ground with a mere lift of a finger.

“I’ll leave.”

His hand shot out to grasp her wrist. “Aditi—wait.”

“Don’t apologize, Arnav.”

“I won’t because nothing I say will improve this situation.” He muttered, wincing at how pathetic he sounded. “Why are you here?”

“To make sure you are alright. I saw the press conference.”

She silently studied his face. The gentleness of it no longer present hidden behind a need to stay in control.

Grabbing her by the shoulders, he brought her close.

All of a sudden he moved towards her lips. Aditi held back a breath—whether in protest or anticipation, she wasn’t sure. But when he stopped a breath away, she trembled watching the fury blatantly reflecting in his eyes.

“Get out!”

She let out a slow, and careful breath, searching for that one word that could describe the cold feeling unfurling inside her. This moment would change them forever, she wanted to stop it, but knew it was inevitable. All she could feel was an emptiness, quietly, revealing her presence was no longer required.


Thank you so much for the incredibly warm response. I hope the story lives up to your expectations.

All I can say for now in response to the intrigue is …when you open a box of puzzle everything seems confusing at first, then as you begin to put together the pieces the picture becomes much clearer. Wait for it!

As always would love to know your thoughts.

Take care