Two weeks had gone by in a whirl. They had traveled to Mumbai, Kolkata, and Bengaluru, visiting plants, craftsmen and the markets. Back in Delhi, Khushi was exhausted but happy. This had been a good trip so far.
One discordant note stood out. The newspapers had got hold of the story. Photographers had been waiting at Mumbai airport, but the tight security screen around them had held strong. Aman had come through this time. She didn’t know how Arnav did it, but there had only been one photo of hers in the papers, just a side profile in the background.
Her parents were arriving at the end of the week. Payal and Akash’s wedding was to be held in Delhi itself in two weeks. Khushi would be returning back with them. The deal was almost done. Now it was in the hands of the lawyers who were drawing up the final paperwork.
She sighed as she walked into her room, undressing as she went. She turned on the taps to fill the bathtub, and pinned her hair up. She was longing for this soak. Sinking into the perfumed bubbles she closed her eyes and rested her head against the back, her mind blank. The ringing of the phone brought her back to reality. She picked up the phone next to the tub and said, ‘Hello?’
‘Khushi, you’re back in India and you didn’t tell me?’ she gasped. ‘How could you, Khushi? Do you know how much I’ve missed you?’ She slammed the phone down, staring at it in horror. The phone rang again. She cut it off. It rang a third time and she cut it off again. It rang again. Scrambling out of the tub, uncaring of the wet footprints she left on the marble floor, shivering in fright she ran into the bedroom. It stopped. Her cell phone rang. She picked it up. Arnav! Closing her eyes in gratitude she answered the phone.
‘Why the hell were you hanging up on me?’ angrily before she could even say hello.
‘It was you?’ she said.
‘Yes, it was me. I called the landline twice. You hung up on me. And the second time…’ he stopped. ‘What do you mean it was you?’
‘Nothing,’ she said, still trying to breathe.
‘Khushi?’ his throat was tight. ‘Khushi, what happened?’ He thought for a moment. ‘Did you get another call?’ Tears were streaming down her face. ‘Khushi, are you crying?’ He closed his eyes. ‘Don’t. Please, don’t,’ his voice broke. She didn’t say a word. ‘I’m coming right over. Stay in your room and don’t open it for anyone other than me. Okay?’
‘Okay’, she said.
He grabbed his jacket and keys and rushed out of his room. Nani was in the hall as she looked at him taking the stairs two at a time. ‘Chotey? What’s going on? Where are you off to in such a hurry?’
He didn’t respond, just walked out the door, already calling the hotel’s security manager. He was going to have his hide. ‘I want two people outside Miss Gupta’s room. Immediately. And no one goes in, unless she identifies the person. No one. Get it?’ He didn’t wait to hear the stammered response from the poor man. Fifteen minutes later he squealed to a stop in front of the hotel, he strode through to the reception, ‘where’s the manager?’
‘In his cabin, sir,’ the receptionist replied round-eyed.
‘Tell him to come up to Ms Gupta’s room, right now.’ He strode to the elevators.
The manager was already waiting when Arnav reached the floor. ‘I told you that Ms. Gupta’s security was of the utmost importance.’ He chewed the next words through clenched teeth. ‘There has been a security breach. From this point on, there will be NO incoming calls from outside this hotel on her landline, do I make myself clear?’
‘Y-yes sir,’ the totally intimidated manager stammered. The two guards looked on impassively.
‘Now, leave. And make sure I don’t have to do this again, because I won’t,’ he said. He knocked on the door, ‘Khushi?’
She opened the door; he stepped in and pushed it shut behind him. Her eyes were drenched in tears and he couldn’t take it anymore. He wrapped her in his arms, cradling her head with one hand, while she cried on his shoulder, her hands clenching his shirt. ‘It’s okay, Sh… I’m here now,’ he whispered. She calmed down after a bit, allowing him to lead her to a sofa. He sat her down and sat across from her on the table, holding her hands with both of his. ‘Look into my eyes, Khushi,’ he said, looking at her downcast face. ‘What’s going on?’
She drew a deep shuddering breath, wiped her nose on a tissue. She was still in her robe, damp tendrils dangling in front of her makeup-free tear-streaked face, and red moist eyes. She was the most beautiful person on the earth for him.