Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Walk The Line: Chapter - 2

The sun hadn’t yet risen, but it tinted the clouds on the east with pinks, golds and oranges. Arnav tossed around and then sat up in bed. He’d had a bad night as the time difference was telling on him. He decided it was probably better to go for a jog now. The house was quiet. He could sneak out before the morning pandemonium started.

Outside the air was pure and clean. The rolling hills of San Ramon were reflecting the early rays of the sun. He set off on a track he’d seen earlier heading into the hills and winding to the back of the house.

Khushi stepped out on the deck in the backyard and breathed in the clean morning air. She was dressed in a one-piece bathing suit, the emerald and cyan tones setting off her pale skin, although right now, it was covered in a long t-shirt. She twisted her hair into a ponytail and padded down the swimming pool. There were no fences between NK’s house and hers. Early every morning, she swam in the pool. This was a quiet time for her and she loved it. She took off the t-shirt and stretched to warm up. Then she dove in. Once in the water she cleaved through the water with smooth strokes. Lap after lap.

Arnav turned around the corner on the trail. It wound towards the back of NK’s house. He had a view of the pool from this slight elevation. He saw it then - the flash of blue and green, the long limbs, and the clean strokes. He’d almost completed his route and stood jogging in place for a while. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. She came to the end of her lap, shook her head and hoisted herself out of the pool. She bent to pick up a towel and stopped. She straightened up slowly and started turning around. Quickly he resumed jogging and went around the house.

Khushi stopped for a moment, her eyes scanning the hillside. She was almost sure she had felt someone looking at her. A cool breeze came up from nowhere and she shivered as her arms got goose bumps. Quickly wrapping the towel around her, she headed back home.

Arnav entered the room he was sharing a room with Akash, who was still fast asleep. The experience unnerved him a bit. She had known he was there. What the heck was he thinking staring at her like that? No wonder she got spooked.

An hour later, having finished breakfast, he was busy on his laptop. Suddenly he heard the low growl of the Mustang as it started. He looked over to the window just in time to see it pass by.

***

The house was in full marriage mode. But first there was Diwali and then the wedding. Arnav walked down the stairs overlooking the family room where most of the people were sitting around and talking,

‘Chotey’, his grandmother exclaimed on seeing him. ‘Come sit with us’.

‘Sorry, naniji’, he said. ‘You know I am mixing business with pleasure on this trip. I wanted to get to a phone. Somehow, mine hasn’t switched to international roaming and I need…’

‘Oh Chotey’, his sister said. ‘You really should turn off that business mind of yours once in a while’.

‘Di’, he shook his head. ‘NK?’ he looked around for his cousin.

‘Yes, Nannav?’ NK as usual was his bouncy self.

‘NK, can I borrow your phone for a bit? I need to call New York’.

‘Not a problem, bro. Here’, he said, handing over his phone.

‘Thanks,’ he said taking the phone and walking away.

Anjali shook her head at her brother. He was never going to change. All his life revolved around his work. Yes, he played. There were often pictures of him with different women on his arm, rarely the same. He found women who wanted nothing more than what ASR could give him – all the expensive material things. But she knew her little brother. She knew his heart was in the right place, IF he ever gave it and himself a chance. Chances of it happening were slim, but if and when it happened he was in for a world of waking up!

He walked back and handed the phone to NK. ‘Thanks, NK. Di, I’ll be leaving tomorrow for New York and I’ll be there for a couple of days. Hopefully my phone would start working by then. ‘

‘New York?’ NK asked.

‘Yeah. I have a few contacts that I want to work on’. He paused and said, ‘by the way, can you pick me up from the airport the day after?’

‘I’ll make sure you get picked up, Nannav. If I can’t go I’ll find someone to.’

‘Thanks’, he briefly rested his hand on NK’s shoulder, before turning and walking up the stairs.

‘I don’t even know why he comes on these trips,’ grumbled Anjali. ‘He doesn’t take any time off from work! NK, can’t you get him to do something FUN for a change?’

‘True, di’, he thought for a moment. ‘I’ll take him to the races day on the weekend.’

Both Nani and Anjali looked on in surprise. ‘Races? What races?’

“Car race, Naniji. I think he’ll like that. He likes cars, doesn’t he?’ NK was all excited. ‘Akash bro, we should do a guy’s thing out, you know? Leave all this wedding stuff behind for a bit. Which reminds me, di and Naniji – what would you like to do today?’ As bright as a butterfly, his thoughts flitted about from one to the next.

***

Khushi was deep in thought. Her inspiration for the latest design didn’t seem to be cutting it. She sat back and looked at the design. No. Something was not right. Her focus was broken when the flashing light on her phone indicated an incoming call. NK. She sighed and picked up the phone. ‘NK,’ she said.

‘KKG, sis, can you please do me a favour?’

‘Sure. Tell me,’ she said.

‘Look, Nannav’s flight gets in at 2 – it’s about 12 now, and I’m stuck here at home. Can you please pick him up?’ he asked in a pleading tone.

Khushi was barely listening, her attention having drifted to the half-complete design on her desk. ‘Sure. What time did you say?’

‘TWO, sis,’ he emphasized. She jumped, her mind just registering what he’d said.

‘Oh. Okay. Which airline?’

He gave her the details and she wrote them down. Going into her browser she quickly brought up flight information. It was on time. She should leave, but there was all this stuff still left to do. ‘Oh my God! How am I going to complete this?’ she thought.

At precisely 2 pm, she was waiting at the arrivals lounge. Then she spotted him, moving easily through the crowd with long loping strides. As usual, he had a dark suit on, with a dark shirt and a metallic tie. There was something about him, an aura, like he occupied the space around him. He was speaking to someone on his Bluetooth, his head lowered and seemingly oblivious to the people milling around him. At that moment he stopped and looked up, his eyes meeting hers over the heads of the crowd. For a moment he just looked, and then started moving forwards towards her.

‘Hi,’ he said. His husky voice was huskier than she remembered.

‘Hi,’ she replied. Somewhere an imp was doing a little happy dance inside his head – she’d come to pick him up! He shoved it out the door.

‘Thanks for picking me up,’ he said.

‘It’s not a problem,’ she automatically said. ‘Although.. ‘ . They had started walking to the parking lot.

‘Although…?’

‘Well, I do need to get back to the office to wrap up. You see, NK only told me at 12 that he wanted me to pick you up at 2. And I was in the middle of something - something that I need to finish before I go home.’

He watched her babbling on and then said, ‘….and so you would like to go back to the office and would I mind waiting for you?’

‘Er.. yes. That would help a lot.’

‘Sure,’ he said. She looked at him with some of her surprise showing in her face. He smiled his lopsided smile and said. ‘Not a problem’.

They settled into the car and drove to her office. She parked in her designated spot. He swung out of the car, and came around to hold her door open. ‘Thanks, ‘ she smiled. The first real one he’d had from her. It was hesitant, just lifting the corners of her mouth, and in her eyes. He smiled back at her, just a little smile too, a tiny crinkling of the eyes, a lift of the lips. They walked to the elevators together and once again, he held the door for her. They got off on the 21st floor. He looked around him, completely at home in this environment. Two pairs of glass doors faced them with the emblem of Sergio Madrid on them. He turned to her, surprised. ‘You work here?’ he asked.

‘Yes. Yes, I do. I’m a designer for Sergio.’ He nodded.

He followed her to her room – an open plan niche more-like. A small couch sat in one corner with a coffee table on it. Scattered around the room was a wealth of materials. On the far side was a desk with a computer and a large smattering of drawings. He placed his laptop on the coffee table, and settled on the couch while she sat down on a tall leather chair behind her desk. A mannequin in one corner stood draped in a beautiful nude colored gown.

He looked at it and then across at her. ‘Is that what you’re wearing to Nia’s wedding?’ he asked.

‘No’, she looked shocked.

‘You designed it?’ She nodded shyly. ‘It’s quite good!’ he said. She was strangely glad to hear that note of approval in his voice. In any case, he should know. He’d built his fortune on just this – clothes.

For a while they both worked in silence until it was broken by a booming voice. ‘Aarnaav, my man,’ it said. Arnav looked up, smiled and stood up, and was instantly enveloped in bear-like hug. Khushi watched open mouthed as her boss, THE Sergio Madrid hugged Arnav Singh Raizada. She blinked in disbelief. ‘Aarnaav, I was surprised to get your message. I didn’t expect to see you here. We could have come down together from New York ‘he said, his Hispanic roots obvious in his accent.

Arnav gave that little lift of his lips that passed for a smile. ‘I didn’t know I was coming here until I got here,’ he explained. ‘Khushi picked me up at the airport and brought me’. He gestured in her general direction.

Sergio turned to her, as if just registering her presence. ‘KKG? How do you know ASR?’ She opened her mouth to reply, but Arnav cut her off. ‘She’s my cousin’s friend and offered to pick me up today’.

Offered? She didn’t recall making that statement, oh no, not at all. NK had asked her. She shook her head and sat down. ‘Stupid man, making up tales. When did I offer to drive him home? I told him that NK had asked me to..’ she continued mumbling to herself. All of a sudden she realized that it had gone quite quiet. She looked up. The men were looking at her like she’d walked out of the loony bin. She could almost hear the ‘What the heck?!’ they weren’t saying aloud.

‘Arnav, come to my room. We can talk there, and leave KKG here to work in peace,’ Sergio clapped his hand on Arnav’s shoulder.

‘Okay,’ Arnav agreed pleasantly enough. Picking up his laptop and bag, he followed Sergio out.

‘So he can actually carry on a real conversation,’ she thought. With peace and quiet restored, she focused on her work once more. It was only when she looked at the clock that she gasped. 7:00 pm! God, she had been so heads down she hadn’t even realized how late it was. She gathered up her stuff and moved towards the door.

‘Aren’t you forgetting something?’ She spun around at the question. He was standing leaning against the wall, arms crossed, legs crossed, one eyebrow raised in a question, his laptop case at his feet. But there was nothing smiling in that face. In fact, he was glowering at her. ‘Did you just forget that you were my ride home?’ his voice was cold.

She turned red. ‘I’m sorry,’ she stammered. ‘Its just.. that I was so involved in what I was doing, that I quite forgot the time and ..’

‘…and me’, he finished. He glared at her. She blinked in surprise. He picked up his bag and strode over. ‘Did you really forget me, Khushi Kumari Gupta, or was it deliberate?’

She looked at him in amazement. ‘You really think that I would do .. would do that? What do you think I am?’

His eyes searched her face and settled on her eyes. ‘I don’t know, Khushi Kumari Gupta’. There it was again. The full name – a rebuke! ‘I don’t know you at all, do I?’ And I would so love to get to know you, the little imp completed for him. SHUT UP!! He sat on it squashing it for a while.

‘Look MISTER Arnav Singh Raizada, NK gave me a responsibility. To get you home. So get you home I will. Now, can we go?’ she gestured to the door.

‘After you,’ he said sarcastically.

He couldn’t help but look at her back as she walked out. Cristian Loubotin ankle length boots, long slim legs encased in beige trousers, a flimsy printed puff-sleeved blouse. Her hair was in a French plait today but the bangs were in full display. He followed her out.

When they go to the car, he waited for her to unlock it. ‘Can I ask you something?’ he said. She had a question mark on her face. ‘Would you mind if I drove us home?’

‘Drive my car? Drive MY car?! After what you just said to me inside, you really think I am going to let you drive? The least you can do is apologize. Then maybe I will think about it.‘

‘Apologize? For what? You were about to walk out without me, and you expect me to apologize?’

‘Then forget about driving my car’ she lifted her chin defiantly.

He pulled open the driver side door and got in. ‘Make me,’ he said.

She had two red flags on her cheeks now and was tapping her foot impatiently. ‘Humph!’ she said and flounced to the passenger side. Flounce? Do people still flounce? Evidently she did, he thought. He held out his palm and she placed the keys in it reluctantly. She does look cute flouncing, the imp shouted from under his mental butt.

He loved the feel of the horses under his fingertips. There is a pleasure to driving on an open road in an open car. One doesn’t feel the need for speed on roads like these. The ride itself is reward enough. The newly fixed 101 was smooth as a carpet heading over the Golden Gate into the last sighs of the day. Music played softly over the speakers. This time it was – Surprise! – a Spanish song. No se tu. He didn’t understand the words, but the honeyed tones of Luis Miguel expressing his loneliness at being without his love were haunting. He’d never been a music buff, but she obviously was. Somehow, though, the drive and the music calmed him down. She seemed calmer too. The ivory tones of her cheeks were back. On an impulse he said, ‘Look its kinda late, and I’m hungry. Would you mind stopping for a bite?’

She looked at him questioningly for a moment. She didn’t see any sarcasm in his eyes, so she nodded. They’d just crossed the bridge and he took the exit for Sausalito. He tapped the Bluetooth in his ear and pressed a button on his phone. ‘Call Di’, he said. A pause. ‘Yes, Di, I’m back. Yes… Look we’re stopping for some food. Would you mind letting Khushi’s people know as well?... thanks!’ He hung up.

They took the exit for Sausalito, driving into the picturesque Bay side community. He found a space to park. They got out and walked to one of the numerous restaurants lining the quay. The inside was dimly lit, candles on the tables throwing shadows on the ceiling and the walls. They were led to a table by the long windows overlooking the bay. Seals dove past in the water. It was almost magical. The server came to take their orders. Arnav waited till she’d finished ordering before placing his own order.

They made small talk while they waited for their food. Once it arrived, she dove into it with enthusiasm. The mussels she’d ordered in a wine and saffron sauce was divine. She closed her eyes in appreciation. She opened them and looked into golden ones piercing into her own. He had a … a bemused expression on his face. ‘Are the mussels really that good?’ he said, covering up his momentary lapse. The candlelight was throwing a warm glow on her skin.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘They’re mmmmm… Would you like to try some?’ She forked a mussel out of its shell and held it out towards him.

The casual intimacy of the gesture shocked Arnav. Did she know what she was doing? He leaned forward, his eyes locked on hers as he slowly took the morsel from her fork into his mouth. It was indeed good! She watched him excitedly waiting for him to make some comment.

‘It’s very good,’ he was finally able to say, swallowing the last morsel.

She smiled at him. He smiled back. The imp did cartwheels.

***

They walked out the restaurant in companionable silence. The rest of the meal had been uneventful. They’d talked a little, on completely neutral topics. The streets were quiet and almost deserted. The shops had all closed but the windows still had lights in them. They came by a jewelry store and paused. Khushi looked was looking at the necklaces on display and one caught her eye – a chain with a heavy pendant. She looked at it unaware that he was following her gaze to see what it was that she liked. The pendant was like a sunburst, made of tiny diamonds glittering in the dim lights. In the center was a blood red ruby. The chain and setting was in white gold twisted with yellow gold. The imp held up a cue card. He tossed it aside.

‘So tell me something, Khushi,’ he said as they resumed their walk to the car. ‘What was the song about?’

‘Which one?’ she asked

‘The Spanish one. What did it mean? Do you speak Spanish?’

‘A little,’ she said, completely side stepping his question about the song. She was blushing and glad that the darkness hid it.

‘So you understand what it means?’

‘Si’.

He looked at her expectantly. She shook her head dismissively. ‘Its just a silly romantic song. You wouldn’t understand.’

‘And why would I not?’

‘Somehow, I think not, Mr Arnav Singh Raizada. You don’t seem the romantic type. Besides from what I’ve heard, you don’t even believe in love and marriage, do you?’

There it was again, the full name. He was irritated that the only time she actually spoke his name, it was in full. Just enough to annoy the hell out of him.

‘You heard right. I don’t believe in love and marriage. It’s stupid to imagine that there’s that one person in this world who is going to change your world. It’s all made up by writers and publishing houses and movie directors who want people to believe in something so much that they are willing to buy it. It’s just a business strategy.’

‘Really?’ she asked.

‘Yes. And I don’t buy it. Now let’s go home’.

Of all the arrogant, egotistical…she fumed.

They drove up to her house and he parked the car on the driveway. ‘Thanks for the ride,’ he said.

‘Thanks for dinner.’

He was taking his bags out of her car when the door opened and a tall, blonde man came out. Lean, and handsome, he held out his arms wide open to Khushi. Arnav watched in amazement as she squealed ‘Jaime’ and threw herself into his arms. He picked her up and spun around with her. She threw her head back and laughed. ‘When did you get here?’

‘In the evening, I’ve been waiting for you’.

Suddenly aware of Arnav’s eyes on her, she took Jaime’s hand and pulled him over to Arnav. ‘Arnav, meet Jaime. Jaime, Arnav. He’s NK’s brother from India,’ she said by way of introduction. ‘Jaime is –‘

‘- a friend,’ Jaime cut her off. His arm was still around her shoulders. Arnav hadn’t realized that his hands had turned into fists until he felt his nails digging into his palms. He breathed in, and held out his hand.

‘Hi. Nice meeting you, too. Good night,’ he nodded at them, before slinging his laptop bag on his shoulder and walking away.

7 comments:

  1. wow. the airport pickup lasted quite a while!
    and now who is jaime and why did he introduce himself as a friend? gonna read more!

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  2. So i cant seem to stop..........Read 3 of you OS and am now here for more.....
    Loved the story line...........in love with this KKG already.
    Have a long day tomorrow but cant seem to stop this now.
    What have you done to me????

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  3. thanks to rasgulla. . Jus startd readg long way to go
    divyaarnavsr from IF

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  4. Oh, so someone is feeling jealous!!!! Why did Jaime stress on the "friend" word????

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  5. So Arnav knows Khushi's boss... tht should be interesting. ..!!! Arnav is clearly jealous. .. oh this will be fun:)

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  6. Nice shes obviously into fashion, but a fashion designer. I likd the Imp I hope he grys his way at some point! ;)

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  7. wohooo a date already?? romantic drive and candle light dinner :P
    oh no instead of a kiss and good by ...arnav met a competition (may b coz he introduced himself as a friend?):D
    it was funny to see ASR and sergio and khushi's reaction to it!

    ReplyDelete

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