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.”
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.
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.”
“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?”
“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.
Stopping at the top of the stairs, she spun around. When she met his eyes, her cheeks immediately stained red with embarrassment.
“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?”
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.
“We have a problem.”
“It turns out…”, pushing back the chair, she stood up in her emerald-green dress. “How about you take a seat first.”
“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…”
“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.” 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.
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 🙂