It Started With A Coffee (TS)

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Nov 17, 2015

IT STARTED WITH A COFFEE (By Inars) (Thanked: 45 times)

1. High School Sweetheart


 

Something was wrong. Not in the general but with my coffee. It tasted like dirt and not a bit like my usual. I took another sip. Yes, definitely not my usual. The coffee I take, had a texture, a smell so unique, it refreshed me even before I took a fill of it. It always had a soothing effect on my tongue and my dry throat but something was amiss today. Had Di changed the coffee or something? The thing I had in my cup was not coffee. It was too bitter and although it cleared my sleepy mind more than usual, the old coffee tasted better and didn’t sour my mood in the process. I dumped the cup of coffee on the table but its smell lingered in my head and I cursed. Damn! How to get rid of this smell? I daydreamed about my coffee, its smell.. its delicious smell.. its creamy texture.. the color. Oh hell! I am addicted to my coffee!

The daydreaming did a good thing to me though. It got rid of some of the smell of the tasteless coffee out of my head.

            When I went downstairs Di was at breakfast table, waiting for us. She was enjoying her glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. I needed a good coffee more than I had thought. I was starting to behave like an antagonist now. The smell of that wretched coffee hadn’t washed away after bath. The taste had vanished, brushing and rinsing my mouth had helped, but the smell hadn’t.

“Good Morning Di.” Di looked up from her glass, surprised.

“Good Morning Khushi. Problem?” I had kept my tone as cheerful as possible but looked like I had failed miserably. I guess sleeping late three nights in a row does that to you.

“Yes with the coffee I just had. Is something wrong with the coffee machine?” I sat down on a chair after putting down my jacket and bag down. Where is Buaji? I am hungry.

“Oh that.” Di smiled, but her smile had a concealed edge. She was laughing at someone and I had an inkling that that someone was I.

“Your coffee maker left.”

“Left?”

“I meant the man who used to make your coffee has shifted to Lucknow. He left yesterday. Didn’t you know?” There went my day in the waste basket. And probably rest of my days on earth too.

“I thought it was a machine.” Di was biting her lips. She was still laughing at me, internally.

“Di, I really want a good coffee. The coffee I had earlier this morning was totally muck and I have meetings lined up for the day.” I had a headache creeping up already. I had worked untill 3 this morning and without a refreshing coffee I was as bad as a walking corpse.

“Yeah I understand. I am missing my special coffee too.” She sounded more cheerful than sympathetic. What’s wrong with her today? Maybe it’s your own head, idiot.

“How about I make you one?” She offered and my dull morning brightened by a notch.

“Thanks Di.” I was really in need of a good cup of coffee.

“Anything for you Chutki.” I had surely made a face at the word Chutki because the next second Di was laughing, walking away from me, her steps a little bouncy and strolling leisurely in the direction of the kitchen. I groaned inwardly. Apparently I wasn’t going to get that good coffee in the next five minutes. Only if my headache waits till Di make the coffee.

“Good Morning Khushi Beta.”

“Good Morning Buaji.” Oh how I loved my Aunt’s voice. It always had a calming effect on me. Today it was a little more than usual. Courtesy of the damned cup of coffee I had an hour ago. I was starting to ponder to take her to work but then I rejected the idea. The last time I had it was a disaster.

“Where’s Anjali Beta?” She asked sitting down beside me breaking my spell.

“In the kitchen.” I told her and at her perplexed expression, continued. “To make a cup of coffee for me.” She nodded.

            My coffee arrived fifteen minutes later. It smelled a lot better than the morning one. Di really know how to make a good coffee. “Smells good Di.”

Di sat on the other side of the table facing me.

“Khushi?”

“Hmm?”

“I want a favour from you.” My eyes narrowed and Di hurriedly modified. “A task for you.” She still sounded hesitant. Why?

I took a sip from my cup. That’s called a coffee. “That’s a good coffee Di.” She was waiting for me to say something more so I turned my attention away from my coffee.

“What’s the matter Di?” I asked.

“My friend, her brother’s got a job here, in mumbai and they are from Delhi. It’s a temporary job and he has no place to stay here. You remember Payal? He’s her brother.” Di was looking at me oddly. And then it settled inside me. Payal’s brother! It meant Arnav.

“Payal?” I asked nevertheless, a lump forming in my throat.

“Payal Raizada. You don’t remember her? She was my desk-mate. Her brother Arnav, he was our senior. The one who used to follow you around.” Di and Buaji laughed at that. How can I forget the nightmare? I cleared my throat softly. They had no idea what I was going through. And it was best this way.

“Oh yeah! Now I remember him. The clumsy one right.” Who caused most people to fall on their faces when he walked.

“You remember when he broke that fool NK’s nose?” Di and Buaji were really enjoying all this.

“How can I ever forget? Thanks to him, NK stayed away from me.” That’s called being diplomatic.

“So will you help?” That’s like my Di, using emotional blackmail on me. And she says she doesn’t have business acumen. “Buaji agreed to let him stay here for a couple of days till he finds a place to live. It was all so sudden for him.” Di stalled.

“The task?” I asked.

“Umm.. Khushi, will you be nice to him? I know you don’t like him much. But….” She trailed off not knowing what to say. And she thinks I don’t like him. She will have a mini heart failure if I ever told him about us.

“Sure. Anything for you Ganji Anji.” And it was my turn to laugh.

“It’s not fair Khushi.” Di huffed at me. But I didn’t care. I had to change the topic.

“Everything’s fair in sister’s war.” I dug into my plate. Eggs smelled good today. Or maybe the smell of that coffee made everything else smell better in comparison.

“When is he coming?” I had no idea where did it come from. But it was out of my mouth as soon as my mind registered it. And I had sounded excited. I have to work on this mind to mouth filtration. I run an entire business and I have the restraint of a child.

“Tomorrow morning.” If Di was surprised she didn’t say anything. Instead she answered in a straining voice. Is she tired? I lifted my head to look at her face for any indication. But Di was looking at her toast now like it was something fascinating. Even Buaji. Something didn’t sit well with me. If they were acting then they were a really lousy actors. But it had my curiosity. They knew something which I didn’t.

“Send me his ticket details alright. I’ll…..” Buaji interrupted before I could finish. “I already arranged for everything Khushi Beta. You don’t worry.”

“I am leaving now. Thanks for the coffee Di.” I drained my cup and stood up.

“You want one every morning?” Di offered again. When life throws something good at you like now, you grab it with all your being.

“You’re a savior Di.” I took my bearings and turned to leave but of course Buaji had to ruin it.

“What about after her marriage? It’s three months away.” Buaji had a tendency to say something depressing at a very wrong time. But I wasn’t stupid.

“Shyam Jiju is so unlucky. I am going to snatch her back from him.” Buaji gasped and Di chuckled. Before she could make a retort I flew out of the dining space with my coat and bag in hand.

            The day didn’t get better. My condition got worse. Because the morning coffee had ruined my morning and I couldn’t get rid of its smell the whole day. The coffee Di had made, got me going till the afternoon which was really pathetic. I was officially an addict now. For a good coffee, I added. It was a consolation prize which didn’t cheer me up. I was working on Saturday when the whole damn office was empty. Aman wasn’t here either. He was getting married and his substitute was due on Monday.

And most of all because Arnav was coming back.

The whole day I couldn’t decide on how I have to behave around him. Like a woman who had her first kiss with him. Or the woman who was his sister’s friend’s cousin. That sounded crazy to me. Or to just plain ignore him for my own good. The last time I had seen him he was at the threshold of my room and I had shut the door on his face. I cringed at the memory, the noise of doors sounded harsh to my ears. He must hate me now. I had hurt him. His hurt eyes had haunted me for weeks. But what else could be expected from a sixteen years old? He had hurt me too. You don’t kiss a person and then tell him or her that it was a mistake and then try to be sympathetic before leaving the country. That insensitive jerk had did it.

Why was he coming back? That was a dumb question. It was his choice. But why now? And how did he look now? The Arnav I knew had just turned nineteen, lean but tall for his age. And the best thing about him was that he was never embarrassed. Even when he followed me around. I had never saw anyone teasing him for following me. He was always left alone. Boys of his class and age stayed away from him. Was it his height that had kept his classmates away from him or his glaring black eyes? I didn’t know. Maybe it was his decision to stay away. His eyes had fascinated me. He had that understanding and intelligence thing in his eyes which had pulled me towards him. He had an eye for everything. He always knew where to sit in school garden during lunch hour, which place had more grass or which had more flowers, which was the best spot or which was not. Those were my golden days. Certainly not his. Damn! I am thinking about why was he good for me.

I didn’t want to wander there. It was a forbidden territory. Some scars were better left untouched. Concentrate on real problem Khushi. The problem was how to deal with Arnav after 13 years. He must be 32 now. What was he doing all these years?

Stop! I glanced at my bedside table. 2.21 a.m. “Sleep now Khushi”. I muttered. Or get dark circles tomorrow. You were awake last night too. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the white light in the darkness. It didn’t help. And people said it was a big help. I guessed I was too excited for tomorrow. Return of ‘high school sweetheart’ thing is something.

Nov 19, 2015

2. The Big Fat Elephant (By Inars) (Thanked: 50 times)


 

I didn’t know what I was expecting this morning but facing Arnav was not one. It would have been at the bottom of my list if there was any. Things were working upside down in my world now. I had woken up at 6 this morning, my usual time. No matter how late I slept, I always woke up at 6. Today was no different. But the man running in front of me in his track suit had made a difference.

I opened the back door and there he was, all in his glory, running and panting. The muscle in his shoulder bulging and changing with every moment. He appeared taller, darker and fit too. Really fit. Gone was the bony Arnav, the Arnav in front of me was strong and powerful. Something fluttered inside me and I knew this feeling. We were not meant to be. I told myself.

Suddenly he turned in my direction and our eyes met. I felt a wave of heat wash over me and with each passing second it was getting hotter. My breath caught in my throat. That same humming thing I had felt for him 13 years ago, returned with full force. I have to say something and fast or I’ll kiss him. My brain searched for a coherent thing to say but he beat me on it.

“Khushi.” His voice was warm, clear, a deep baritone. My head swam. I couldn’t move my lips or my feet. But he moved so fast that one second he was standing ten feet away from me and the next he was standing close. Too close. His face inches away from mine.

“Breath Khushi. Breathe.” I didn’t know I wasn’t breathing till he pointed it out and I pulled a huge amount of air inside my lungs. My foggy mind cleared a bit and zeroed on his face. He looked tired, a V forming between his dark brows, but his eyes still spoke volume. The V disappeared as soon as it had come and his gaze lowered on my lips and I forgot to breathe again.

“Easy Khushi. Breathe.”

This time my brain reacted faster and I stepped back. The blood racing up my neck and I knew I was blushing like a school girl. Hell! He was doing it again, making me feel those things I didn’t want to. 13 years? 13!

“Why are you here?” I flinched at the way words came out of my mouth. He had sucked a breath at them but his face showed nothing of his displeasure. I hadn’t meant them to be sharp and accusing but I could not help. The brain to mouth thing was turning out to be a problem now.

“Work.” He shrugged.

Arnav had a very peculiar way of answering questions in the past. He never explained in words. Guess that habit had not changed with time. But he had changed, physically. He had gained mass around his shoulders and he was broader, taller and had lines around his mouth and at the corner of his eyes. He looked delicious. My brain didn’t like this thought and I narrowed my eyes. Not at him but at my own foolishness. To get away from him fast I nodded, side stepped him and ran in the opposite direction, dismissing him from my thoughts. If he could not care to explain things to me then to hell with his explanation, I muttered under my breath.

Two hours later I met him at the breakfast table, officially.

“Khushi! Arnav’s here!” Di beamed at me, pulling me to the breakfast table. Buaji was stuffing his plate with more paranthas than necessary. He still ate like a giant though.

“Good morning Khushi.” He sounded so formal that I wanted to dump my morning coffee on his head. He smiled sweetly mocking me and I clenched my jaw. He wants to play games. So be it.

“Good morning Arnav. How’s the journey? I hope you didn’t get any trouble getting here?” Look Di, I am behaving. I had coated my voice with extra sugar for this and it got the desired effect. He raised an eyebrow at that and I smiled wider, grinning was out of question or I would have. I had all the attention on table.

“No, it was pleasant. Thanks for inviting me here.” He had sounded pleased. Just the twinkle in his eyes meant the opposite.

Silence fell over the table then. No one uttered a single word, only sound of spoons and glasses gave any indication that we all were sitting here. Now and then Di and Buaji would talk to Arnav and he answered them quickly, silently, in his own way.

“Khushi, there is something I wanted to talk to you about. Are you free this morning?” Arnav broke the silence between us and I cursed under my breath. He was making things harder for me. And it angered me to no limits.

“It’s Sunday.” I answered. How’s that for an answer, Mr. One-word.

“Alright.”

We sat in awkward silence. Buaji and Di had stopped talking and were looking at us now. But not for long. Mercifully soon everyone left the table and I sagged on the back of my chair. That was close! I was contemplating to break the plate on his head. But Buaji would have been upset then. It was her favorite set. Some theme she had liked.

Theme reminded me that I had yet to talk to Di about her wedding theme. I climbed the stairs to her room and knocked. She was working on her designs. She looked up from her papers, pencils sticking out of her hairs, between her lips and behind her ears.

“I hope I am not interrupting you?”

“No. You came at the right time. I wanted a second opinion on these.” She showed me her papers, the designs, fabrics and colors she wanted in her wedding lehenga. We talked on her lehengas and sarees for the next hour. Buaji joined us later and put her own opinions on traditional designs. And then we talked about the theme she wanted. The wedding planner, Sofia had sent us some themes and Di and I made some changes in her wedding dress and themes to go with the traditions. Nothing too flashy, Buaji had told and we had agreed wholeheartedly. Malhotra’s had a name to carry. Though Di had no Malhotra in her name but she was one. Three hours later we were exhausted and famished. The coffee Di had made for me this morning was starting to wear off.

“Let’s discuss this with Sofia. She will know what to do.” I got up kicking my neck to the sides.

“I’ll go and tell Hari Kaka to fix us something. I am thirsty.” Di said stuffing her papers inside the file while Buaji helped her with fabrics lying on the floor.

“No I will.” I told them and went downstairs.

            At 1 someone knocked on the study door and I had an inkling to who it was. Arnav! My insides screamed in unison, excitedly. I was pitiful. I closed the book I was reading.

“Yes?” The door opened a little and he was there, his hand on the door knob, looking all the more delicious in a grey shirt and dark blue jeans.

“Hari Kaka told me you were here. Is it a good time to talk?” he asked warily.

“What is it?” I asked ignoring his question. Every time with him was not a good time. Let’s get over with it, I decided.

He sat on one of the chairs on the other side of the table, facing me. He looked all business sitting there and ready to pounce on me. But then he relaxed and I noticed that I did the same. I hadn’t known I was sitting stiff. Maybe he had noticed. He put his hand on the table and held them together.

He looked me straight in the eye then and dropped the bomb.

“I am your assistant for the next two months.”

Blank.

Blink Khushi. Blink. I chanted.

“How did you get the job?” I asked. I still sounded bewildered. How the hell did it happen?

“The agency recruited me. I didn’t know until I read your name on the contract papers.” He didn’t even blinked at that. So either he was telling the truth or he was a great liar.

“I didn’t want you to be unprepared on Monday. That’s why I wanted to talk to you.” He added when I stayed silent.

“So I am your boss for the next two months.” I grinned and he laughed. And then we fell silent. The awkwardness returned. He raised an eyebrow at it and my heart raced. He looked like the Arnav I knew, so playful and yet serious.

“Khushi?” Was I imagining things or his voice felt heavy with emotions?

“Ma’am.” I teased trying to lighten up the heavy emotion I had felt in his voice.

“It’s not Monday.” He shot.

“You already signed the papers.” I shot back.

“That’s grown up Khushi.” He rolled his eyes at me.

“Yeah and not mentioning the big fat elephant in the room is a grown up thing right?” I raised my eyebrows and he grinned. “You didn’t either.” He said.

“Where were you all these years?” I asked after a minute when I could gather my thoughts.

“Nearby.” Oh how much I wanted to kill him right now. My head started to ache again. I have to ask Di to make that coffee again.

His face turned all serious when I turned mute. “I had to leave Khushi and I am sorry for those things I said to you. Believe me I didn’t want to. And I am not saying all this because you are my boss.” He sounded so remorseful that I forgot I had a headache.

“Don’t worry. It was in the past.” I tapped his joined hands in a friendly way. His hands were warm. They were always warm. The feel of his hands under my palm warmed my heart again. I remembered the day when we had walked hand in hand, the day when I had kissed him. The friendly touch turned something else entirely and Arnav flipped one of his hands, enveloping mine with his. We stared at our hands for a minute and he looked up as I did. And in that moment I knew why he had signed the contract even if it was for two months. Kiss me and I’ll forgive you.

“Arnav.” My throat constricted at the way he was looking at me. He had been hurt and I knew there was a reason why he had left me. And he would tell me when he would be ready.

“I am sorry Khushi.” He had meant every word he had said. He always had. That’s why I had believed him thirteen years ago. The kiss hadn’t meant anything to him, he had said. But it had. It was written all over his face.

“Why did you leave?”

Someone knocked at the door and I pulled my hand out of his grasp. Nice timing! My head screamed.

“Yes?” Hari Kaka peaked in from the door. “Lunch is ready. Anjali Bitiya is waiting for both of you downstairs.”

“We’ll be right there Hari Kaka.” He nodded and left closing the door. I shifted my eyes at Arnav then. He stood before I could speak anything. “Later Khushi.” He promised and left me in the study.

By Saturday evening I was ready to burst. I hadn’t had a decent coffee since thursday because Di had gone for a fashion week in Delhi and Buaji was making me crazy with her ‘Arnav Beta this’ and ‘Arnav Beta that’ at home. And I wasn’t getting peace in office either. Arnav was good at his work but whenever he was in close proximity my senses went exploding which was frequent considering he was my assistant. For two months. Damn! A week with him and I was ready to lay at his feet. I stared at him whenever he wasn’t looking at me. The urgency to touch him, to kiss him was getting stronger every day and I didn’t know how to cope up with these feelings.

And I was frustrated. Beyond reasons. He hadn’t explained why he had disappeared.  But I had vowed that I would be patient with him and I was. He would tell me when he would be ready.


.


Nov 28, 2015

3. Protection Detail (By Inars) (Thanked: 74 times)

.

On Sunday When I woke up I had a terrible headache. I dropped the idea of jogging and exercise as soon as it popped into my brain. As much as I loved the silent morning walks with Arnav I couldn’t lose to be a shrieking teenager in front of him. So I closed my eyes and tried to sleep again. It didn’t help so I got up and made my bed.

I took a brufen out of the medicine box and went downstairs. I ate a cookie and washed down the pill with vegetable juice I had made. I sat on the counter and waited for Hari Kaka or Roshni, anyone who could fix me a light breakfast and make me a coffee but a bearable one. I didn’t want to move or else I would have helped myself. Movement was worsening my headache. After few minutes Arnav showed up in the kitchen.

“Good Morning.” His hairs were wet. He had taken a bath and he smelled wonderful. Even from where I sat I could smell him. Freshly shaved and bathed, he was every woman’s dream come true. My mouth watered.

“Good Morning.” I thanked him for the distraction or I knew I was going to attack him, here in kitchen.

“Headache?” He asked. How did he know?

“Yeah.” I went with the truth. He knew me too well so it was no point in lying.

“Coffee?” He asked but he took a cup out of one of the cabinets. How did he know which cabinet had coffee? There were so many, I wondered.

“Sure.” I told him. Please God! Let it be a good coffee. I prayed silently. I could not handle a bitter coffee right now.

Arnav put some coffee and sugar into the cup along with a spoonful of water. I was watching him move. He didn’t look clumsy to me now. In fact his steps were somehow graceful. He started beating the coffee and sugar in cup with a spatula. What was he doing? The rhythm was so skillful and timely repeated, it felt like he was doing it for years.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Making a coffee.” He took two pans out from another cabinet and I wondered again how he knew so much about the kitchen. He added milk and water in one and boiled it while he made me scrambled eggs. He was observant, wasn’t he? He knew where things in kitchen were and what I ate in breakfast. I would have given him ten points for it, if I was keeping a score board. He poured the content of the pan in the cup containing the mixture of coffee and sugar and stirred it for a minute.

The smell reached my nose before the cup did. It smelled heavenly. “Here, it’s yours.” He gave me the cup and boiled water in the other pan and fixed himself a cup. He likes his coffee black and sugarless. I noted. Why? I had no idea.

I took a sip and the hot liquid warmed me from my mouth to my heart. The taste settled on my tongue then and I froze.

It tasted like my old coffee, exactly like the coffee I was used to. The perfect cup. For me.

He slipped eggs on a plate and put it beside me on the counter. He didn’t look up and continued with his coffee. A minute later he had his ready. And I was too.

“Arnav?” He turned, his brows knit together. “Didn’t like the coffee.”

“No. It’s like my coffee. Exactly like my coffee.” I clenched my jaw at the last words. There better be a good explanation or I’ll kill him.

“What do you mean?” He knew exactly what I meant. His eyes said so. They were restless.

“Stop pretending Arnav. Explain. Now!” I was furious. And he wasn’t making things easier.

“Khushi calm down. I’ll explain alright.” He put down his cup and walked towards me. I put my palm out to stop him and shook my head.

Roshni entered the kitchen then and stopped looking at our expressions. “Roshni, Anjali Di will be here for breakfast.” I told her and she nodded. “And you? In study now.” I told calmly, pointing my fingers at him and left with my plate and coffee.

He followed me with his. I could feel him behind me. Good for him.

He sat on the same chair he had a week ago. So much had changed in a week. A week ago I didn’t want to see him and I was dreading the meeting with him and now I wanted a show down, a confrontation. Life was so complicated.

I sat on the sofa. I needed a place in case I passed out. Brufen hadn’t worked. My head was pounding and Arnav was not helping. He had hid something from me and I knew it was not going to be pleasant.

I cleaned eggs off my plate and the coffee too. I noticed that he had emptied his cup when I had.

“Start.” I told him. He shook his head at me, disappointed but I didn’t care. I needed answers and now. “You are overreacting Khushi.”

“Am I now?” he chuckled and I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Fine. I am in your security detail.”

What?

My security?

“And I was living in this house since you returned to India. You were my responsibility at home and Aman’s at office.” Aman? No words came out of my mouth.

“He’s my partner. We own a detective agency. A few weeks back Aman decided to get married and we had to plan all this.” He was staring out the window and I was thankful because I had no idea how to react. I was not afraid or anything else for that matter. It was too much. I was being followed all these years. 6 years? And then it struck me. He followed me in school too. 13 years!

“In school too?” I whispered.

“Yes. My father used to work for your father. And when he died your father took me under him. That’s when I came to know that your father had some prior connections with underworld. Your parents loved each other but they lived apart because your father was threatened when you were twelve and at that time it seemed like a good plan.” I had no idea. I thought they had their differences and had stayed married for my sake. “When your mother died and you returned to him, he gave me work. He paid me for keeping you safe in school. I followed you in between classes and after school. It was my routine. Didn’t you ever wonder why some kids or people fell down when I walked?” He was looking at me, expectantly and I gulped the lump in my throat. His eyes had a tender look, so tender that my anger faded. My head continued to hurt though.

“I thought you were clumsy.” His lips twitched. “Well it can be interpreted this way but usually I kept you away from pushy teenagers and harmful strangers.” I laughed. And I had thought he was clumsy.

“And then you kissed me.” He laughed too, a rich and heartfelt laughter.

“Hey you kissed me back too.” I grinned, not a bit offended, though in any other circumstances I had been but not now.

“And your father told me to leave. That moron, NK took his revenge on me. He told your father that I had kissed you.” He shook his head at the memory as if shaking it out of his mind. My head felt light. The headache had disappeared suddenly.

“I did my PG and started my business with Aman. Your father hired us when you went to London. Aman befriended you there as much as I know. When you returned to India your father allowed me in this house. He was getting calls then and he was worried that you might get hurt. But he had one condition.” My eyelids began to droop. I tried keeping my head straight and eyes open but it was too much of an effort. “That I would never get too close to you. I was willing to take it. . The thought of watching you every day was enough for me. So I stayed…..” I couldn’t hear more. My vision blurred and lids dropped.

When I woke up I was on my bed in my room and Di was sitting beside me watching me. “Hey sleepyhead, wake up. It’s 8.” I felt like dead. I shifted a little and my body screamed in protest. I was stiff. How many hours had I slept for? 3? 4?

“Hi Di. When did you arrive?” My throat was dry. I cleared it and Di gave me a glass of water.

“Dinner’s ready. Come down.” She kissed my forehead and left.

Dinner? I slept for what? 12 hours? 13?

And then the morning flooded into my mind. What must he be thinking? And apart from it what my father was thinking? He loved me and he had done so much to keep me protected. He had sent Arnav away just to keep her daughter away from falling for him. He had wanted me to study. He had pronounced it so many times. And I had.

I slipped out of my bed. My body felt heavy but the headache was gone. I washed my face with cold water and then changed.

When I went downstairs Arnav wasn’t at the table. Disappointment flooded inside me and I almost changed my mind to go back to my room. He must think of me as an Idiot. I had slept in the middle of his side of the story. My brain didn’t want to go there. The explanation seemed too much for my sanity. It would take days for my brain to come around.

I sat beside Di and waited. Maybe he will come. I hoped.

“So you guys kissed or what?” Di asked and my hand stilled on the way to get a glass of water.

“Anjali.” Buaji cautioned. I turned my head towards Di and she was looking at me. “Yeah I know.” She smiled mischievously. “It took two years to convince him that you still loved him and that no father wanted his daughter to fall in love at the age of sixteen or with a man of his reputation.” She said.

“You knew? How? Since when?”

“When you came back to India, Mamaji thought it was better if mom and I lived with you. So he brought us here and maybe hired Arnav and Aman then. It was hard to not notice that Arnav shadowed you here and Aman at office.” Di pushed a slice of cucumber inside her mouth and bit into it, chewing slowly. So I waited. “So Mom and I pulled Mamaji in study one day and yanked it out of him.”

“You don’t know how hard it was for me to convince him to come back as Arnav and not remain as house help after Mamaji’s death. The last stone was Aman’s marriage. He had to come out then.” I didn’t know what to say at that. I was running in circles. These things were too much for me.

“He loves you Khushi. Can’t you see? He protected you even when he wasn’t getting paid for it.” Di put her hand on my shoulder. She knew what I was feeling, how confused I was. I nodded. I didn’t want her to worry. My brain was working in safety mode. “I love him too Di.” I whispered. After that Di didn’t say anything.

Arnav came half an hour later when we were finished with our food. I sat in silence when I ate. Di was narrating the story of her Delhi conference but I wasn’t interested. Now and then he would look up at me, his eyes had questions of their own and I didn’t know how to answer them. Di and Buaji left for their room but I couldn’t. I didn’t feel like leaving him alone. Because I didn’t want to be alone. And my heart didn’t want Di or Buaji either. I wanted him. Only him.

“How are you feeling?” he asked when we were alone.

“Good.” I answered sincerely. I had nothing else in my mind. “I have decided that I’ll tell you the truth from now on.” He apologized then and I asked him the reason for the sudden apology.

“For drugging you.” I opened my mouth to say something but then I thought better and closed it.

“You weren’t sleeping properly and your body needed rest.”

“I was.” I contradicted.

“3 hours is not counted as sleeping.” He was good at these discussions. He should get into my business.

“You got me there.” I told him and he winced. I had deliberately kept my voice cold. I know. But he had no right to drug me. Not yet. Something yelled inside me.

“Where were you?” I asked. He had stopped eating.

“Aman needed help with a client.” He said and cleared his plate of last of his food.

“I know I don’t deserve you Khushi but…..” I cut him midsentence. “Yeah you don’t.” he cringed and his face fell. I kicked myself for the hurt I was causing him but it was necessary. Some things were needed to be straightened out first. It took two years to Di to convince him to come back to me huh.

“It took you a week to tell me that. And you weren’t planning on it either. How dare you think that I’ll fall at your feet and beg for your love! Two years! You took two years and then you come here and drug me! You have some nerves Raizada.” I was mad with fury. And the man sitting in front of me was smiling. I took a deep calming breath. I was known for being calm. It was a requirement in my business. But with Arnav everything was upside down.

“So you are mad because I took two years, hid things from you and drugged you. And not because I had called that kiss a mistake?” He was laughing at me! How dare he?

“Of course not.” He stood from his chair and walked around the table to sit beside me. And I did a mistake; I turned in my chair to face him.

He leaned in and kissed me full on my mouth. And I forgot everything else, the two years of convincing, drugging me, lying to me. Everything. His lips, hard and warm, moved with mine. He tasted like carrots and mints and a unique taste of Arnav. And definitely not a mistake.

“I am sorry Khushi.” He breathed into my mouth. “This doesn’t change…..” He captured my lips again and I lost my train of thoughts. The last thought I had had that he was a good kisser.

We parted for an acute need of oxygen and he touched his forehead to mine. “You kissed me to shut me up. What a grown up thing to do.” I teased him when my mind cleared, my resistance had melted away with that soul shattering kiss.

“I had wanted to say it then. Let me make it perfect Khushi.” He leaned back and I noticed that I had my arms around his neck. When had they got there? I slipped them to their original position, beside me. He took my hands then, his eyes turned liquid fire and I blinked.

“Be my girl Khushi. Let me get to know your heart. I like you Khushi more than you know. I don’t want to burden you with more intense words. I am saving them for later. But I promise you, you won’t regret it.” He finished and I realized that I was crying. He had blurred from my vision but this time I was drugged with him, with his words, his warmth. How could I not love him back? He was everything a girl wanted. Warm, considerate and s**y as any super model. He wiped my cheeks and gathered me in his arms.

“On one condition.” I whispered against his shirt.

“And what is it?” he waited and I took my own sweet time to tell him. He deserved it. I had waited for his words too.

I felt him take a deep breath and his hold tightened around me. “I am known to be a patient man Khushi.” He knew what I was doing and I laughed, freely. For the first time in my life I felt unburden. Di would get married happily. Arnav would be there to support me. Buaji would stay here for forever, with us. I loved this man and I didn’t want him to wait any longer.

“You have to make morning coffee for me every day.” I told him.

“Deal.” He promised. “And we are safe Khushi. You are safe. No one can harm you, I had made sure of it. I am here.”

“So are you going to date the coffee machine?” It was Di who had shouted these words from the top of the stairs. She had heard every word. I groaned.

“I am never going to get away with that, aren’t I?” I shouted back.

And then Arnav laughed. He must have understood. He was quick that way.

“Anjali?” It was Arnav who had shouted this time.

“Yes?”

“You should have told me about the coffee thing. Khushi had figured it out on her own.”

“I know.” So it was Di’s plan. She knew Arnav was never going to tell me the truth. And she had made her own plans.

“Thanks Di.”

“Any time Chutki.” And I laughed.

“So Arnav?” Di shouted. “Are you going to be my jijaji?”

“No, Khushi’s coffee machine.” Arnav grinned and I laughed again.

Life was so much easier with Arnav in it. Some things were still unresolved but I knew we would resolve them as they would arrive.

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