Arnav pulled into the parking lot of AR Group of Companies. He came around to open the door for her and helped her out. She was surprised at this and ridiculously pleased. It was still early evening, though past office hours so most people had gone home and the underground lot was almost empty. He kept an arm around her waist as they headed to the elevators. Her head was on his shoulder and he stole a quick kiss as the doors closed on them.
They walked in through the doors and saw Aman standing there. An Aman who couldn’t help the look of surprise on his face to see his usually dapper boss walk in with floppy hair, casual dockers and a rumpled tee, with a woman, around whose waist he had his arm draped. His mouth fell open even further as he recognized said woman - Khushi Kumari Gupta?!! What was his boss doing with Ms. Gupta who looked equally disheveled, he noticed in another part of his brain.
‘Aman, shut your mouth,’ said ASR. He shut it. ‘Did you get the everything on Di’s list?’ he asked, completely unconscious of the fact that he still had his arm around Khushi. Aman could only nod, seeming to have lost control of his vocal chords too. ‘Where is it?’
Arnav was looking at him impatiently.
Quickly clearing his throat, he finally said ‘down in my car, ASR’.
‘Fine. Let’s go,’ with that, he headed back to the elevators again. The trio stepped into the elevators and ASR finally let go of Khushi. He didn’t usually do this, but the wine and the day in the sun had probably gone to his head, he thought. One look at Khushi’s sleepy eyes, and he knew it wasn’t the wine and it wasn’t the day. It was Khushi. He raked his hair back impatiently with his fingers, his eyes narrowing in thought. Oh no, Dude, don’t start that again, said the imp, shaking his head.
The two men loaded up the car while Khushi waited for them. Before long, they had finished loading up the car and Arnav got in. The drive back to the hotel was quiet, each lost in their thoughts. Neither wanted to break it. Too soon, they had reached the hotel. They got out of the car, and the valet came running up to them. He opened the trunk to get her bags out. Handing the keys to the valet, he gestured for Khushi to go ahead into the hotel. They rode the elevators, still in silence.
Khushi stole a glance at his profile, noticing with a sinking heart that his jaw was clenched, while he looked straight ahead, his eyebrows lowered in a frown. She wondered what had upset him. He walked her to the door of her suite. She opened it and they walked in. Payal was nowhere to be seen. He placed her bag in the living room and turned to go.
He stopped with his hand on the door, and then slowly turned around.
She was standing in the middle of the room. There was something forlorn in her eyes. They almost seemed to be asking him, what happened? He turned around then, and walked out of the door.
Downstairs, he got in the car and was about to start it when he heard the soft buzzing. What the?! He looked around, trying to figure out where the sounds were coming from. Belatedly he remember the phones he’d put in the glove compartment. He took them out, and realized he’d have to go back upstairs to give hers. He sat there for a second, thinking, he could give it to the front desk and.. no.... He headed back upstairs again, and knocked on her door. A few seconds passed while he waited. He frowned as he saw the number of missed calls on his phone. He scrolled through them, and then realized the door hadn’t opened. He knocked again, a little louder this time, starting to feel uneasy. He knocked again with a ‘Khushi?!’ just to reinforce it. The door opened.
‘What took you so long?’ he asked Khushi who was staring at him blankly.
‘I was in the restroom,’ she said, annoyed at his tone.
‘Do you know...? Never mind. Your phone,’ he said, holding it out to her.
She took it, ‘Thanks.’
They stood there a little awkwardly, and then they both spoke together.
‘I should go,’ he said, after a little pause. She nodded her head, eyes down. He sighed, not wanting to leave things like this. Stepping a little further in, he cupped her face with his hand and leaned in for a kiss. Her arms came up into his hair, as she returned the kiss. His arms wrapped around her pulling her close.
‘Khushi?’ the question broke into their little world. Payal was standing at the door with an astonished look on her face. Arnav turned around, still keeping one arm around her.
‘Payal,’ he said. ‘I was just leaving.’ He kissed Khushi on the forehead and strode out the door.
Payal’s round eyes followed him out, and then she came in, shutting the door. ‘Khushi,’ she grabbed her sister by the arms. ‘What was that?’ Khushi swallowed, not wanting to go into long explanations. ‘What’s going on with you and Arnav?’
‘I ...Jiji.. we,’ she tried articulating exactly what was going on, but it was a little hard. ‘Jiji... we,’ she tried again.
‘He was kissing you,’ said Payal, a small smile on her face, ‘and you weren’t exactly saying no, were you?’
Khushi shook her head, the smile on her sister’s face giving her some relief. ‘I don’t know, jiji. I don’t know what’s going on.. we just.. ‘
Payal looked at her sister’s worried eyes. She took a deep breath and said, ‘I just don’t want you getting hurt, okay? Akash has told me a little bit about Arnav, and I don’t know if he’s the right kind of person for you. But you have to make that decision, Khushi. Both of you.’
‘I don’t know, jiji,’ she sighed. ‘Sometimes, he’s so open and then he just closes up. I don’t know what it is about him, but .. I don’t know what to do,’ she turned away, not wanting her sister to see the distress in her eyes.
‘Is he the Prince Charming you always dreamt of?’ asked Payal gently.
‘As if,’ she exclaimed, turning around. ‘Anything but! Then again,’ she looked away, a smile playing on her lips, ‘he ...’ her smile broadened.
‘Are you in love with him?’
Khushi stopped, eyes widening with something like panic in them. She didn’t say anything, but her heart was hammering. Could it be? Had she gone and fallen for a man who didn’t believe in love and marriage and the whole traditional thing? She liked him. She couldn’t deny that. She liked being around him, being kissed and ... everything else. But in love? No.. she wasn’t in love.
Her racing thoughts came to a screeching halt as she noticed her sister’s face. There was something like ... like... amusement on it. ‘What’re you laughing at?’ she asked.
‘No, Khushi, nothing,’ said she innocently. ‘I really need to use the bathroom.’ So saying, she left her sister alone with her thoughts.
Arnav pulled into the driveway of Shantivan and parked his car. He’d seen the number of calls he’d got, di, di, di, police, aman.....Police? It must be Bhardwaj, he thought. He headed into the house and went straight up to his room, ignoring his sisters ‘Chotey?’ in the hall, for once.
Anjali was confused. It wasn’t like Chotey to just ignore her and walk away. Something must be on his mind. She looked at Dilip, deeply engrossed in something on his iPad. ‘Listen,’ she said. ‘Chotey just walked away from me without replying. I’m worried. What happened to him?’
He looked up with a sigh. When his wife got on the I’m-worried-about-Chotey train there was nothing that would stop her. He had to forgo his work and worry about her. ‘What is it, honey?’ he said.
She repeated what she’d just said. He looked at her affectionately. ‘Tell you what, he probably needs some coffee. Why don’t you make him a cup and I’ll take it up to him. I’ll talk to him, then, okay?’
‘Fine,’ she said, still looking distressed. ‘Oh, one more thing. He left in a business suit this morning, and came back in casuals. And he was supposed to go shopping, but where is the shopping? We need those for the wedding tomorrow,’ still in worried state.
Right on cue, they heard a ‘Hari!’ from Arnav’s room. The servant ran to do his master’s bidding. Two minutes later, he came down and headed out. They watched in silence as he returned with bags of shopping evidently from Arnav’s car. Dilip raised his eyebrows and looked at his wife. ‘Looks like the shopping question is answered, now for the suit,’ he murmured. Hari ran out once more and this time returned with a garment bag, evidently containing the suit that Arnav had worn this morning. He headed up the stairs with it. ‘Well, I guess that answers your questions,’ he looked at his wife.
‘Still... just talk to him. Something is going on with him.’
‘You know he doesn’t talk unless he wants to,’ he reminded her.
She looked exasperated. ‘The least you can do is try,’ she stated. He sighed. Oh well, when the wife was stubborn, one just had to give in.
Ten minutes later, he carried up a tray with two mugs of coffee on it to his brother-in-law’s room. He knocked on the door, and Arnav yelled, ‘Come in’. He entered and saw Arnav sitting at his laptop, his finger in his ear, turning off his bluetooth. His phone was sitting on the bed, linked to a charger and he’d changed out of his clothes into some cargo shorts and a black tee, hair still damp from a shower.
‘Jijaji,’ he smiled at him.
‘Coffee?’ Dilip smiled back. He really liked his brother-in-law. The guy was way too mature for his age, but steady as a rock and a hard-headed business man. And most of all, he would do anything for his sister, which earned him brownie points in Dilip’s book.
‘Yeah, why not?’ Arnav answered, taking off the bluetooth and standing up. They took the mugs of coffee and headed out to the pool area, sitting down at the table there.
‘Di sent you?’ Arnav asked, cocking an eyebrow at him.
He nodded. They both chuckled and sipped their coffee in companionable silence. Dilip broke it again.
‘She’s worried about you,’ he said.
Frown. ‘Me? Why?’
‘Well, you did leave today in a suit and you came back in casuals. You didn’t answer your phone all day. And you completely ignored her when you got back. You know what she is like, she latched on to all these things, and now, I need to find the answers for her,’ Dilip smiled ruefully.
Arnav bent his head looking into the dark liquid in his coffee. He took a sip and then said. ‘I was out.’
‘ We know that.’ Quiet. ‘With Khushi?’
Arnav’s head shot around, eyes narrowed.
‘Arnav,’ Dilip paused, wondering quite how to put it. He sighed. ‘Look, you and Khushi were arguing when you left. Next thing we know, you’re not picking up your phone. You know your sister. She was calling everybody to find you. I figured you’d turned it off ‘cause you didn’t want anyone interrupting your time with her. Put two and two together come up with four. You must be out somewhere with her, and it certainly wasn’t shopping... was it?’ He looked keenly at the younger man. ‘Besides when the police were trying to get hold of you, they couldn’t. Why were the police trying to get hold of you, Arnav?’ he asked. He really was curious about this. What could be so important that the police needed to connect with him, and how come nobody in the family knew about it?
Arnav sighed, wondering how much he really wanted his brother-in-law to know. Not much, he decided. ‘Yes, I was out with Khushi,’ he admitted in a low voice, completely bypassing the police question.
Dilip was surprised. He hadn’t expected an admission from his close-mouthed brother-in-law. This must be really serious!
‘I was out with her at the farmhouse,’ he said. He leaned back in the chair, looking up at the darkening sky. ‘We..... just needed some time,’ he finished. To think things through, he thought. He didn’t really need a third degree now, but somehow he felt a little better talking about it. He pushed his hair back and looked at his brother-in-law. ‘I don’t know what it is about her, but...’
‘Do you like her?’ gently.
A nod. ‘Yeah,’ a small lop-sided smile.
‘How serious is it?’
‘I don’t know,’ honestly. ‘She’s like nobody I’ve met. But I don’t have the time for anything else right now,’ repeating what he’d told Khushi.
Dilip sighed. ‘Arnav, this is something you have to find out for yourself. But take a moment to think about Khushi. It’s obvious you both have something ... for each other. I can’t tell you what to do about it.’
Arnav nodded, appreciating the fact that his brother-in-law was giving him this space.
‘But, Arnav, there’s one thing. Sometimes, these things happen at the most awkward of times. Falling in love isn’t something you plan for, and it doesn’t always happen at your convenience, you know. It just does.’
In love? Arnav looked at him, shocked. No. He wasn’t in love. Love wasn’t something he believed in. Yes, people went around saying they were in love. And yes, his di and jijaji seemed so in love. But what was it really? He knew it wasn’t love he felt for Khushi. Or was it? He was confused as hell.
Dilip watched his face go blank. He knew him well enough to know that the curtains were drawn. Whatever was going through Arnav Singh Raizada’s head, nobody would be able to peek in. He hoped it was the right kind of thoughts. He’d put the seed there. It was up to Arnav to figure it out. He wasn’t going to do much more than that. He clapped a hand on Arnav’s shoulder and then said, changing the topic, ‘What did the police want with you?’
For a second, Arnav stared at him blankly and then shook his head, ‘it’s not important.’
Well, that was all he was going to get for now, Dilip thought. He stood up. ‘I should go see what your sister is up to.’ He left.
Arnav nodded. He still sat there, elbows on his knees, deep in thought.
What Dilip didn’t know was that Arnav was not thinking about Khushi at that point. For once, he was examining himself. Looking inside, trying to figure out what was happening to him. The conversation had given him more food for thought than helped him. What was wrong with him? He pushed those thoughts away.
Arnav Singh Raizada was nothing if not focused. He went back to his room and dialed the Police commissioner’s number. It went to voicemail. He left a message and hung up.