Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Walk the Line - Chapter 37

The wedding was almost over. Akash leant forward and put the sindoor in Payal’s parting and it was done. They stood up, their dupattas tied and walked together to touch their elders’ feet to get their blessings. Everyone had smiles on their faces. The sisters hugged and the brothers hugged.

Khushi and Arnav looked at each other over their siblings’ shoulders. He blinked. Something was happening inside him. Something he didn’t want to admit as he’d watched the whole wedding take place. This was the first time he’d actually listened to what the pandit was saying. The vows during the pheres. He’d been listening with half an ear but the words had resonated in his head for some reason. His other half, the imp owned half had been aware of Khushi all through the ceremony, even when he’d not looked at her.

Khushi had known about the vows since she was a little girl. Both the Christian version of them and the Hindu version. She’d always thought that the day would come, one day, when she’d float down an aisle in a white billowing gown, her face hidden by yards of tulle, and a white bouquet of roses in her arms trailing to the floor. She’d have six bridesmaids and four little flower girls, there’d be a page boy carrying a little cushion with the rings on it. She would walk up to her Prince Charming in tails and cummerbund..... and he would turn... and at this point, she had always stopped.. because she had never been able to see his face.

Today, as she watched Payal and Akash getting married, she was acutely conscious of Arnav standing a few feet away. She knew his heated gaze was on her, she could feel it searing her skin and her face. As she’d watched Payal and Akash walk around the sacred fire, an image had popped into her brain. She, walking around the fire, in front of her a set of broad shoulders, dark hair, and long lean legs. She moves forwards for the last pheras and turns and .... she closed her eyes at this point... she knew whose face she’d wanted to see when she opened her eyes. Her eyes had flown open to look straight at Arnav and he’d been looking at her as if he could see into very brain and the same thought. His eyes narrowed for a second, and then he’d looked away.

The Bridal party made their way to the rooftop elevator. Both Payal and Akash would be changing out of their wedding outfits into something else for the reception. The entire nineteenth floor of the hotel had been reserved only for the wedding. Pat got into the elevator with Lavanya, and she noticed that it only stopped on the nineteenth before it went straight to the second floor. As the two of them headed to the ballroom, she excused herself to go to the restroom. Coming out, she wandered over to the railings over looking the main lobby. Guests were already coming in for the wedding, and the one elevator was manned by a burly security guard. Those who took the stairs, too, were stopped at the ballroom doors and asked to show their invitation cards. She watched the long line of people wending their way in. This was a society wedding and it showed. There were reporters downstairs, but none of them were being allowed into the hotel. They’d been kept outside. A discreet police presence was also there, as well as quite a few out of uniform personnel. She could spot them all, she thought. These people did not blend in so well, especially at an upscale event like this one. Nevertheless, she was impressed. Looked like Raizada had everything under control. She walked over to Lavanya who was busy chatting with NK, and the three of them headed into the ballroom together.

Up on the nineteenth floor, Payal was busy changing into her reception dress. This one too was a rich, heavy lehenga, but in a bottle green color with a deeply embellished skirt with a blood red border, and a blood red choli. The red veil stayed on her head. Khushi helped adjust the maang tika so that the sindoor in her center parting showed.

With Payal ready, she hurriedly changed into a new lehenga, as well. This one was in deep purple, the colour of aubergines, with silver and crystal work on it that sent a thousand sparkles around her. The necklace still stayed on her neck. She’s seen him looking at it, and knew what he was thinking. A secret smile played on her lips as she adjusted her bodice. Debs and Annie sat on her bed, her friends having come from early morning to help out with all the work.

The phone in the room rang, startling her.

‘Are you’ll ready to go downstairs?’ it was Dilip on the line.

‘Yes, we are,’ said Khushi, smiling.

‘We’re meeting at the elevators, then,’ he said.

They came out of the room and could see Akash and his group already waiting for them there. The elevator took them to the second floor. The event planner, Ms.Wendy D’Souza was waiting for them there.

‘Mr. Raizada,’ to Arnav, ‘you need to go make the announcement. You two,’ indicating Payal and Akash, ‘please wait here.’

Arnav walked into the room, along with the rest of the group, Khushi by his side. He walked up to the dais, mic in hand and said, ‘Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.’ A hush fell around the room. The lights dimmed, and a spotlight highlighted him, a tall figure in a dark blue suit, silver shirt and a silver blue cravat. ‘Thank you for gracing us with your presence to day.’ He looked around and said, ‘without further ado, I’d like to present to you for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. Akash Singh Raizada.’

The crowd burst into applause, as another golden spot hit the entrance where Akash and Payal stood framed in the doorway. Music crashed around them. Bursts of flashes indicated quick photos being snapped of the couple as they walked hand-in-hand on the petal-strewn carpet down the center of the hall, and made their way to the dais. The lights turned up again. Akash hugged Arnav, as Khushi also came up to the dais. Their family gathered around for a bit, before the guests started moving up to the dais to congratulate the couple.

Arnav stood back and then stepped right off the dais. He hated being in front of a crowd. Most people stopped by him, and congratulated him as well. His eyes were searching for Khushi. He spotted Jaime’s blond head and looked over. She was right next to him, laughing at something someone had said. He was surprised at the feeling of relief he felt at seeing her with Jaime. Anyone else, and the imp smirked at him. What were you gonna do? Hit ‘em upstyle? He shook his head. He had to work the room, he knew, so he started by moving into the crowd. A waiter stood in front of him with a tray of drinks in his hand. He picked up a glass of pineapple juice, barely glancing at the man who held the tray. ‘Thanks,’ he said, and moved away.

Shyam watched him go, his face unrevealing, although his eyes glittered. He turned his head and watched Khushi laugh and smile with the young blonde man. He had to keep away from her. For now. There was always time later, the night was just beginning.

Akash and Payal sat on the chairs during a little respite from the guests.

‘Akash,’ she said, ‘just how big is this crowd?’

‘About a thousand,’ he answered. He reached out and held her nervous hands on her lap. ‘You okay?’ She nodded. ‘Do you need anything?’

‘No, I’m good. I’d love something to drink though,’ she added as an afterthought.

‘Me too.’ He looked around for someone and spotted NK chatting with Lavanya at one end of the dais. ‘NK!’ he called.

NK was having the time of his life. Not only was Lavanya great to hang out with, even the American lady, Pat - who WAS she any way? - was a fun person to be with. He looked around to see Akash waving him over.

‘NK, can you get Payal and myself something to drink, please?’

‘Sure thing,’ said the ever obliging NK. ‘What do you want, Bhabiji? Bhai?’

‘Orange juice for me,’ Payal said.

‘Me too,’ said Akash.

‘Ooooohh!! I see now why you are both made for each other. You even like the same drink!’

Akash grimaced at his inane sense of humor. Payal hid a smile. NK jumped off the dais and looked around for a waiter. One was passing by him. ‘Hey, can you get two orange juices for the bride and groom?’ he asked the man.

He nodded and proceeded towards the bar. Coming straight at him was Jaime with Khushi in tow. He veered off to his right, and the two of them went by him. Forgetting the drinks for Payal and Akash, he went towards the back of the room which led to the outside corridor. It was a little less lit than the hall, but it led straight to the fire exit staircase. He looked around and there was no one there.

Back inside, Akash was waiting impatiently for the drinks to arrive. ‘NK, where’s our drinks, man?’ he asked.

NK scratched his head and looked around, but he couldn’t spot the waiter. Where the heck had he gone to?

‘What’s wrong?’ asked Pat. Something was tingling at her nerve ends, but she couldn’t put her finger on it.

‘Oh, nothing, Pat,’ NK answered, having dropped the Ms.Cromley long ago. ‘Akash needs a drink and I’m trying to find the waiter who was getting it for them.’

Jaime came up just then, as did Arnav.

‘Ms.Cromley,’ he shook hands with her. ‘Glad you could make it. Are you enjoying yourself?’

‘Oh yes, I am. Lavanya and NK have been with me and been helping me with understanding the rituals.’

At the word ‘rituals’, she noticed the look that Arnav and Khushi shared for an instant, before both looked away.

‘Ms. Cromley. This is Khushi Kumar Gupta. She’s the sister of the bride. Khushi, this is agent Pat Cromley.’

Khushi’s eyes widened as she leaned forward to shake hands.

‘Agent, Nannav?’ asked NK looking shocked. ‘What kind of agent?’

‘FBI,’ Pat said, calmy. NK looked at Arnav, who nodded slightly. NK grew serious and nodded back as well.

‘And this is Jaime, Khushi’s cousin,’ he finished the introductions. Jaime had also been looking at Pat with a serious face.

‘Someone tell me what’s going on here?’ asked Lavanya suddenly, she felt left out but she could feel the undercurrents.

‘Nothing, Lavanya,’ answered ASR smoothly.

She took it at face value, then all of a sudden she remembered her thought. ‘ASR!’ she exclaimed. ‘I have to ask to you something,’ so saying she put her red-lacquered fingers on Arnav’s hand and dragged him away, moving into the crowd. He looked over his shoulder at Khushi who was staring at them both.

‘Where is that waiter?’ said NK again.

‘NK, tell me, what is it?’

‘Well, Akash and Payal had asked for some orange juice and I told a waiter to get it.’

‘Wait here,’ she said, hurrying off, and forgetting Arnav’s injunction of staying with NK or Jaime. They were both engrossed in entertaining Pat anyway. She found a waiter and directed him to take the juice to the bride and groom. Feeling parched herself, she headed to the bar. A tray appeared before her with a glass of orange juice on it. She gratefully picked it up, barely glancing at the waiter. She drank it thirstily, draining the glass, and looked for a place to put it down. At the same time, she was looking around the room, trying to find Arnav, but she couldn’t spot him anywhere.

Just then, another waiter came up to her. ‘Mr. Raizada asked you to come outside for a second,’ he said, pointing to a set of doors. She frowned. Why did Arnav want to meet her there? But knowing him, she knew that this was just his way of finding a little time together. After all, he’d done it before.

She walked towards the door, and was just opening it when a wave of nausea hit her. Opening the door, she looked around desperately for a bathroom. Spotting another set of doors, she ran towards it, hoping it led out to an area that she knew. She opened the door and ran through, but stopped when she saw that all it led to was the staircase. Barely had her mind grasped that when the door swung shut behind her, and something hard hit her on the head and she blacked out.

Rani Sahiba had watched Khushi step out of the doorway in a hurry. She followed her out, just in time to see the door to the stairwell close behind her. Oh well, she must have gone upstairs, she thought. She hadn’t seen Shyam yet. He’d told her that he’d be here, where was he? She looked around carefully. No. She couldn’t spot him anywhere. The guests were heading to the dining tables and she joined them, chatting with the lady on her left about what a wonderful reception it was. She pulled her phone out of her purse and texted, whr r u? and hit send.

ASR was trying to shrug off Lavanya’s which fingers digging into his arm. ‘Lavanya, what is it? What’s wrong with you?’

She looked around to make sure that no one was listening to them. ‘ASR,’ she said in a theatrical whisper. ‘The necklace.’

‘What necklace?’ he looked at her like she’d gone mad.

She waved a hand impatiently. ‘The necklace that Khushi is wearing. It’s the same one on your design.’

He raised an eyebrow, this was going to be a tough one to get out of, he thought. ‘So?’ attack is always the best form of defense.

‘So? SO?!!’ her voice raised up, and then she dropped it dramatically again. ‘You gave her the necklace.’ He let the eyebrow stay up, looking at her not answering her question. ‘Well, did you? And that dress was designed for her, right?’ Her eyes were sparkling bright, dimples out as she eagerly waited for his answer.

He shook his head exasperatedly and smirked, before shrugging her hand off and walking away. Well done, said the imp, clapping his hand. You think? he asked back.

She followed him, sputtering but didn’t ask any more embarrassing questions. Suddenly he felt a little light headed and stopped. Lavanya ran into his back. Looking up at his face, she noticed him rubbing his temple. Immediately, she was the concerned friend. ‘ASR, are you okay?’

He nodded his head, but felt another attack of vertigo. He swayed a little, and she held on to his arm. His heart was racing. He didn’t know why he felt like that. This didn’t feel like a drop in his blood sugar count. Something was different. He looked around, and then looked again. Lavanya was urging him to sit down, but he shrugged her off. The guests were milling around them, headed to the dinner table. His heart was pounding now, and a low throb started in his temple. Mouth dry, he looked around for the third time. Khushi! He couldn’t see her anywhere!

7 comments:

  1. Madhu, loved it. It's poised at a very interesting juncture - looks like Shyam's got Khushi. Will Rani Sahiba and Shyam be at odds over Khushi...Will Khushi be able to escape unscathed...
    Eagerly awaiting the next update.

    - Toons

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  2. Super one Mads .. love the intrigue .. hmmm so khushi goes a missing .. & shyam is not around . & rani sahiba is at the wedding venue ...

    can i simply write .. cannot wait for the next update ...

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  3. OMG Madhu....S has Khushi & even RS is not aware of it......phew!!!

    Can't wait for the next update.....

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  4. Ooh La La !!! La is a clever one !!!

    Superb.... its getting more intriguing.... more exciting... ASR drugged, Khushi drugged and gone.... Can't wait for the update !!!!

    Stop reading comments.... hurry up !!! :-D

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  5. Hi! Thats a good update. If I was worried before, I am absolutely frantic now. They are both drugged? Scary.!

    All the same, i love the very subtle interactions you've been showing between Arnav and Khushi. The sidelong glances exchanged, the look in the eyes, and a description of their feelings, etc., the power of such things between them can never be underestimated! I think that is what makes your Arnav and Khushi so special!

    Also, I love flustered Arnav! It was genuinely funny, the little interlude between Lavanya and Arnav.

    As always thank you for sharing and updating! I am excited about the next one!

    I'll be waiting!

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    Replies
    1. Hi

      Could you please email me a reply? I could let you know when I update the chapters!

      Thanks!!

      Delete
  6. Oh dear I take it Shyam has Khushi, virdi must be Rani Saheba, shes a guest after all. Honestly Khushi does my head in, I suppose with all the security around she felt safe... but she still left Jamie and Nk. Arnav felt Khushis' plight, thank goodness he is aware of her. Hopefully they get to her soon.

    ReplyDelete

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